The Public Is Clearly Confused about PAs and NPs

Advanced practitioners, particularly PAs and NPs, are often cited as the answer to the looming primary care physician shortage—an estimated deficiency of 49,300 primary care physicians in the U.S. by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. However, it appears there is a large amount of public confusion when it comes to the roles of PAs and NPs in primary care, according to a new study, which is to be published next month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

For the study, members of the U.S. public in all 50 states were surveyed between November 2017 and January 2018. Participants were asked questions regarding their knowledge of the abilities of physicians, PAs, and NPs to prescribe medications, diagnose illnesses, and order lab tests.

Of the 3,948 respondents, an undisputable majority knew physicians were able to prescribe medications, diagnose illnesses, and order lab tests. However, they were much less well-informed when it came to PAs and NPs. About half were unaware that PAs could prescribe and diagnose, and nearly a third did not know NPs could, and while a higher percentage were aware that PAs and NPs could order lab tests (66% for PAs, 74% for NPs), it was nowhere near the 97% who were aware of physicians’ ability to do the same.

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