Why Home Health Should Embrace Nurse Practitioners

It’s becoming increasingly common for nurse practitioners to visit seniors in their homes—and that could spell good news for those who prefer in-home care, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Nurse practitioners made 1.13 million in-home visits to frail and elderly patients in 2013, or more in-home visits than any other type of medical specialist made that year, the study revealed. Internal medicine physicians, for instance, made 1.08 million home visits in 2013.

When it comes to in-home visits, nurse practitioners haven’t always led the pack, though. In 2012, nurse practitioners made fewer than 925,000 home visits, while internal medicine doctors made 1.08 million.

Home health is widely anticipated to be one of the fastest-growing employment sectors as the U.S. population ages. Industry experts believe it may be difficult to fill all of the future open positions.

Unlike doctors, there’s no limit on the number of new nurse practitioners certified each year. Accordingly, nurse practitioners are a great demographic to care for the rising number of American seniors, according to researcher Nengliang Yao of the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

“This [study] has implications for both house-call providers and nursing education,” Yao said in a press release. “If we want to take care of our geriatric population, we really need more providers to do so.”

Home health industry groups have long pushed for nurse practitioners to provide more home health care and even be able to certify these services under Medicare.

For the study, Yao, along with colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Tennessee and the UVA School of Nursing, analyzed Medicare data to determine how many house calls were made in 2012 and 2013, who made them, and where they occurred.

The total number of home visits made by all specialties increased from 4.9 million in 2012 to almost 5.2 million in 2013, the researchers discovered.

To better serve the growing senior population, Yao recommends that nursing schools offer training courses in home-based palliative and primary care. He also recommends that states re-examine their regulations around the growth of the nursing practitioner field.

“If we want to improve geriatric care and reduce rural disparities, that’s where we should go,” he said.

Nurse practitioners, the researchers determined, provided care over the largest geographic area in the country in 2013. The majority of nurse practitioners who made more than 1,000 house calls in 2013 were located in the eastern half of the United States, and the strongest concentration was in the Northeast. Skilled nursing residents were “far more likely” to receive in-home visits compared to homebound individuals still living in their own homes, the researchers found.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson