Empowering Advanced Practice Nurses Key to Better Healthcare Access

By paul owers | 12/10/2020

The coronavirus pandemic helped to upend the typical status quo bias by showing that advanced practice nurses (APNs) are worthy of expanded powers in underserved areas, according to research by two health administration professors at Florida Atlantic University. 

To deal with an onslaught of COVID-19 cases in the first three weeks of the pandemic, 17 U.S. governors suspended restrictions that prevented APNs from enjoying full independence, said Scott Feyereisen, Ph.D., and Neeraj Puro, Ph.D., assistant professors within FAU’s College of Business

“Even though governors cannot seem to agree on anything these days, it is remarkable that many of them agreed on one way to improve healthcare access,” Feyereisen said. 

The research, published in the journal Rural and Remote Health, pointed out that rural states have a difficult time drawing physicians and therefore have to rely on several APN types, such as nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), certified nurse midwives (NMs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to staff hospitals. The 17 states waiving restrictions were: Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Maine, New York, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Kentucky and New Jersey.  

The research cited “physician resistance” as the main reason for APN restrictions, noting that physician lobbies are strong and use their clout to protect their financial interests. 

“It has been very difficult to change scope of practice policies, as they involve politically charged decisions, so it was surprising to see such radical change in a three-week time frame,” Puro said. “We want to understand more about how this rapid evolution unfolded, and the likelihood of changes becoming permanent.” 

The professors are calling for future research on this issue to determine what led to specific outcomes.  

“Understanding more about the pathways to APN independence could provide the potential to increase care access for remote and underserved patients throughout the country,” the study stated.

Earlier this summer, Feyereisen and Puro noted in a published study that rural hospitals are more likely than urban facilities to have access to telehealth, an important tool in the fight against the coronavirus.