Q: Do physicians deliver better care than Advanced Practice Registered Nurses?
The media sometimes suggests that physicians deliver better care than Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Is that true?
Not according to most scientific studies, which have found that care by APRNs is as good as or better than that of physicians.
Some recent press articles have openly disparaged or devalued the care of APRNs relative to that of physicians. And the government's slogan for their "Take Your Loved One to the Doctor" media campaign completely ignored APRNs.
However, the following studies and articles show that the care provided by APRNs merits at least as much respect as that of their physician counterparts.
Midwives deliver far superior care to physicians in this extensive study comparing care
|Most Responsible Provider||Midwives||Family Physicians||Obstetricians|
|Caesareans low-risk patients||7%||12%||42%|
|Caesareans medium-risk patients||16%||26%||69%|
|Caesareans high-risk patients||38%||49%||80%|
|Caesareans all patients||10%||17%||58%|
|VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean)||83%||78%||54%|
|Spontaneous vaginal birth||85%||72%||32%|
|Vaginal tears (3rd or 4th degree)||6%||6%||9%|
|Induction with oxytocin low-risk||6%||11%||14%|
|Induction with oxytocin medium-risk||12%||17%||12%|
|Induction with oxytocin high-risk||18%||19%||8%|
|Assisted vaginal delivery (vacuum, forceps or both)||5%||11%||10%|
|Low birth weight||1.8%||3.3%||7.6%|
|Breastfeeding at birth||64%||55%||41%|
|Preterm birth less than 37 weeks||4.6%||6.8%||12.2%|
|Apgar < 7 at 5 minutes||1.8%||2.4%||2.7%|
Soft-selling midwives, the study concludes: "The study provides evidence for the safety and efficacy of midwifeled care across medical risk strata in British Columbia (BC). Our findings suggest that more continuity-based midwife-led care in BC may have contributed to keeping operative delivery rates low without compromising safety." Kathrin Stoll MA PhD, Reena Titoria MD MHSc, Michelle Turner RM MA, Adrian Jones MSc, Luba Butska RM PhD. Cite as: CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) 2023 February 27;195:E292-9. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.220453. See the study in pdf. Also see related content.
2017 -- A review of 1,157 ICU patients had no difference in mortality in ICUs run nurse practitioners vs. ICUs run by physicians. "A Comparison of Usage and Outcomes Between Nurse Practitioner and Resident-Staffed Medical ICUs." by Scherzer R1, Dennis MP, Swan BA, Kavuru MS, Oxman DA.
August 2011 -- A metaanalysis just released in Nursing Economic$ stretching over 18 years compared care provided by advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to care provided by physicians. Care was compared in 24 different categories.
APRNs performed equal to physicians in 13 categories.
APRNs performed better than physicians in 11 categories.
Physicians performed better than APRNs in zero categories.
The categories in which APRNs outperformed physicians:
For Nurse Practitioners:
lower blood sugar levels
lower serum lipid levels
For Certified Nurse Midwives:
lower C-section rates
better breastfeeding rates
more VBACs (vaginal births after delivery)
fewer NICU admissions
fewer perineal lacerations after delivery
lower rate of labor induction and augmentation
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) augmented care was measured in 4 categories and found it provided:
lower cost care
shorter length of stay
Study authors included Robin P. Newhouse, Julie Stanik-Hutt, Kathleen M. White, Meg Johantgen,
Eric B. Bass, George Zangaro and Lily Fountain, Donald M. Steinwachs, Lou Heindel, Jonathan P. Weiner. See the full study...
APRN care is better. International Meta-anlysis
Alba DiCenso, RN, PhD, Research comparing care provided by APRNs to that of physicians. 468 papers reviewed (all Canadian papers of any type or date) and international review papers 2003-2008.
ACNPs (Acute Care Nurse Practitioners) (18 Randomized Control Trials)
US: 10, UK: 6; AU: 1, CA: 1
|Patient Satisfaction||Provider Satisfaction||Cost||Length of Stay|
PHCNPs (Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioners) (28 Randomized Control Trials)
US: 15, UK: 8; NE: 2, CA: 3
|Quality of Care||Patient Satisfaction||Provider Satisfaction||Cost||Length of Stay|
CNSs (32 Randomized Control Trials)
US: 16, UK: 11, CA: 2, Other: 3
|Quality of Care||Patient Satisfaction||Provider Satisfaction||Cost||Length of Stay|
Data courtesy of author. Research presented by Dr. DiCenso at the XV International Nursing Research Conference.
June 2013 -- Patients 75 and over with at least one of the following conditions were treated either by an APRN/physician team, or by a physician alone.
|Condition treated in 1,084 patients over 75 years of age||Co-managed by APRN and physician team, percentage of recommended care received||Managed by physician alone, percentage of recommended care received|
See Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2013 Jun;61(6):857-67. Effect of nurse practitioner comanagement on the care of geriatric conditions. Reuben DB, Ganz DA, Roth CP, McCreath HE, Ramirez KD, Wenger NS, at the Multicampus Program in Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA.
2014 -- See the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists' web pages comparing the care of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists to that of Anesthesiologists. A number of studies have found no significant differences in patient outcomes based on professional background. See the AANA web pages.
August 3, 2010 -- The Wall Street Journal reports "the new study confirms that certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), who receive high-level training, are able to provide the same level of services as anesthesiologists at potentially lower cost." The study authors Brian Dulisse and Jerry Cromwell write "we recommend [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] return to its original intention of allowing nurse anesthetists to work independently of surgeon or anesthesiologist supervision without requiring state governments to formally petition for an exemption..." see the full article or see the abstract of the study in Health Affairs 29, no. 8 (2010): 1469-1475.
June 29, 2010 -- In her article "The Nurse Practitioner Will See You Now," Laura Stokowski at Medscape summarizes the study "The Role Of Nurse Practitioners In Reinventing Primary Care" by Mary Naylor & Ellen Kurtzman in Health Affairs (2010;29:893-899):
They found evidence of the equivalence of care provided by NPs and physicians, beginning with the first randomized trial conducted in 1974. This and numerous subsequent studies confirm that care provided by NPs is as effective as, and no different from, that of physicians in terms of health status, treatment practices, and prescribing behavior. Moreover, NPs achieved consistently better results than their physician colleagues on measures of patient follow-up, consultation time, satisfaction, and the provision of screening, assessment, and counseling.
October 5, 2007 -- A nurse-lead dermatology clinic for children with atopic eczema had a "significantly greater improvement in severity of eczema" than children who attended a physician-lead dermatology clinic. In one measure of treatment adherence, the children's use of wet dressings was 76% in the nurse-lead clinic compared with only 12% for the children in the dermatologist-lead clinic. However, it does not appear as though the study controlled for the length of time spent. Nurses spent 90 minutes in individual and group sessions with patients, and physicians spent 40 minutes with patients, though it is unclear if this was all individual or some group time. See the article...
April 28, 2005 -- In an article entitled "Substituting Nurses For Doctors Results In High Quality Care, Few Savings" researchers report that "[m]any primary care responsibilities can be safely transferred from doctors to appropriately trained nurses...[y]et there is little proof that such a shift reduces physician workload or health-care costs. see the article...
March 28, 2005 -- Today the Courier News (New Jersey) ran a generally very good piece by Stefanie Matteson about the nurse midwifery program credited with helping the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center achieve the state's second lowest rate of Caesarian sections, despite serving a low-income urban patient population that is more likely to have high-risk pregnancies. The article highlights the nurse midwives' care model, presents key data and includes good comments from relevant persons, though it could have focused a bit more on the midwives' clinical skill, as opposed to the admirable "cultural climate" they create. more...
June 2003 -- The American Journal of Public Health published a study funded by the US Agency for Health Care Research and Quality of low-risk patients receiving collaborative/birth center/midwifery care who had comparable morbidity, preterm birth, and low-birth weight rates to patients receiving physician only care. Collaborative care also resulted in more favorable outcomes and a lower cost to the health care system through spending less time as an in-patient, fewer C-sections, episiotomies, inductions, and vacuum or forceps assisted vaginal births, and more prenatal services delivered despite the lower cost. more...
May 2003 -- A clinical trial of 102 patients randomly assigned to receive embryo transfers from nurse-midwives or gynecologists found that clinical pregnancy rates were similar--31% for midwives and 29% for gynecologists. The study subjects had a high acceptance rate of midwives on a questionnaire. Bjuresten, K., Hreinsson, J. G., Fridström, M., Rosenlund, B., Ek, I. & Hovatta, O. (2003). Embryo transfer by midwife or gynecologist: a prospective randomized study. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 82 (5), 462.
April 2003 -- London scientists found that nurse-led GYN clinics had significantly higher patient satisfaction scores than physician-led GYN clinics. Patients rated nurse-led clinics higher in quality, competence, provision of information and overall satisfaction. Miles, K., Penny, N., Power, R. & Mercey, D (2003). Comparing doctor- and nurse-led care in a sexual health clinic: patient satisfaction questionnaire. Journal of Advanced Nursing, April, 42 (1), 64.
April 2002 -- In a meta-analysis of 34 clinical studies published in the British Medical Journal by Horrocks, Anderson & Salisbury comparing care by NP's and physicians, researchers found that patients were more satisfied with their care if it was delivered by a Nurse Practitioner (NP) than by a physician. Compared to physicians, NP's read X-rays equally well, identified more physical abnormalities, communicated better, gave patients more information and taught patients how to provide self-care better. NPs also "undertook more investigations" and spent significantly more time with patients, 14.9 minutes vs. 11.2 minutes for physicians. See the study.
January 14, 2002 -- Linda Aiken Ph.D., RN and colleagues give a compelling interview to Medscape on differences in care delivery between nurse practitioners and physicians. See the interview.
January 2000 -- M. Mundinger et al. from Columbia University School of Nursing published a randomized clinical research study of 1316 patients in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2000). The study compared care between nurse practitioners and physicians. Patients answered a satisfaction questionnaire after initial appointment and were examined 6 months and 1 year later. At six months, physicians received a significantly higher satisfaction rating (4.2 vs. 4.1 on a 5.0 scale). There were no utilization differences, and the only health status difference was that patients with high blood pressure who were cared for by nurse practitioners had significantly lower diastolic blood pressures. See the abstract.
November 1995 -- Brown & Grimes from the Univ. of Texas at Austin School of Nursing published a meta-analysis of 33 randomized studies comparing the outcomes of primary care patients of nurse practitioners (NPs) and nurse midwives (NMs) with those of physicians in the journal Nursing Research. Patients of NPs had significantly greater patient compliance with treatment recommendations compared to physicians. In controlled studies, patients of NPs had greater patient satisfaction and resolution of pathological conditions than patients of physicians. Most other variables were similar. NMs used less technology and analgesia during labor and delivery than did physicians, and the two groups of providers had babies with similar outcomes. Nursing Research 1995 Nov-Dec;44(6):332-9. See the abstract.
October 1995 -- Langner & Hutelmyer published the results of a patient satisfaction survey of 52 HIV-infected primary care patients at an urban medical teaching clinic in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice. Patients of nurse practitioners "fared more favorably" in clinic waiting time, provider knowledge about the disease, continuity of care, and patient education when compared to physician providers. 1995 Oct;10(1):54-60. See the abstract.
March 2004 -- The article does not appear to have specifically studied patient outcomes beyond cost-effectiveness of care. However, cost-effectiveness can in any case encompass positive health outcomes. See the abstract: Uppal, S., Jose, J., Banks, P., Mackay, E., & Coatesworth, A. P. (2004). Cost-effective analysis of conventional and nurse-led clinics for common otological procedures. Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 118 (3), 189-192.
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Last updated February 1, 2017