Health care reform is based on a model of care that encourages patients to be seen by a provider with the correct skill set for the clinical issue at hand. Sometimes this will be a specialist or a subspecialist; other times a primary care physician will be appropriate. But there also will be times when an extender is a patient’s ideal provider.
Traditionally, practices added physician extenders (or mid-level providers) — such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, surgical assistants and physician assistants — to increase patient capacity and operational efficiency, as well as enhance patient education. Yet practice capacity is just the start in this age of health care reform.
A practice that uses an extender only to bulk up patient capacity may fail to reap the full benefits of his or her skills and coordination of care abilities. Indeed, the right use of extenders can increase the quality of care, improve patient satisfaction and make every physician’s professional life at least a little better.