As nurse practitioners enjoy their new, state-granted authority, The Paducah Sun looks at the issue in far Western Kentucky

Kentucky law has expanded the rights of nurse practitioners, Laurel Black notes for The Paducah Sun: “Local practitioners say the move will provide patients with better access to care, but not everyone in the medical community embraces the idea.”

The new law “gives nurse practitioners who have worked with a physician for four years the right to prescribe routine medications, such as those used to treat diabetes and blood pressure, without a doctor’s involvement,” Black writes. But nurse practitioners want it to go farther.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners says “19 states and the District of Columbia allow nurse practitioners full autonomy. This means they’re allowed to evaluate patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and initiate and manage treatments, including prescribing medications,” Black reports. “As the population in the United States grows and ages, providers worry over a physician shortage — as many as 130,600 by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges — and some providers believe nurse practitioners could fill that gap if granted more independence.”

“We want to be as independent as we can, because that gives better access to patients,” said Amy Fennel, a nurse practitioner at the Paducah Neurosurgical Center, told Black.

“But the idea has met with opposition from organizations such as the American Medical Association,” Black notes. “The AMA argues in support of physician-led teams, stating that nurse practitioners lack the education and training to practice on their own.”

Black writes, “Local practitioners say their roles are different from those of physicians, and that practicing independently is well within the scope of their training. Elizabeth Scheidler, a nurse practitioner with Mercy Primary Care in Lyon County, who was a nurse for 12 years, told Black that her training was more patient-focused.

“That makes them a good fit for the current health care climate, where primary care physicians are at a premium, particularly in rural areas,” Black writes. “Kentucky’s law addresses only prescription of non-scheduled medications; controlled substances still require a collaborating physician. And there’s still a ways to go before nurse practitioners are able to practice with complete autonomy in the state.

For the time being, Scheidler says, the new law ‘is a good compromise’.” The legislature wrestled with the issue for years before passing the compromise this year. (Read more; subscription required)

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