Seventy-four percent of the patients were happy to see the NP rather than wait up to a year to see a surgeon. Twenty-six percent said they would have preferred to have been seen by a surgeon in a conventional clinic, but of those, 77% said they would not have been prepared to wait an extra three to four months to do so.
Clinical, legal, and funding barriers in the Canadian health system prevent nurse practitioners from being fully independent when it comes to assessing and managing patients who require specialist care, notes nurse practitioner Angela Sarro, the nurse practitionerand a study co-author. She sees the potential for government-funded triage clinics led by NPs to reduce waiting times for spine consultations.
The findings have implications beyond back issues, she adds. "I feel the findings can be applied to various specialties in which the nurse practitioner has the knowledge and expertise to assess, diagnose, and recommend a plan of care for patients," Sarro tells HealthLeaders Media. "Wait times in other specialties can be long, and with more timely access to care, patients can be informed of their condition, and be provided with education and knowledge to help improve health outcomes."
In fact, Toronto Western Hospital is now assessing the potential to expand the practice of nurse practitioners being the point of contact for ongoing care of patients with a variety of conditions.
Whether the approach could be implemented in the United States or elsewhere, says Sarro, "would depend on the scope of practice that is allotted to nurse practitioners in that country based on legislation."