Delivery of High Quality Primary Care in Community Health Centers: The Role of Nurse Practitioners and State Scope of Practice Restrictions Open Access
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In response to the increased demand for primary care in the United States—a byproduct of a growing elderly population and insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the total number and capacities of community health centers (HCs) is expected to grow. While HCs have historically depended on physicians to deliver the majority of their care, more and more, they are shifting to non-physician clinicians, especially nurse practitioners (NPs); yet, little is known about the quality of care delivered by NPs in HCs or about the role state occupational restrictions have on these practitioners or their patients. Using quasi-experimental methods and data from the community health center subsample of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), this dissertation explores three distinct, but related, research questions regarding NP-delivered care in HCs—its effectiveness and comparability to physician care, the extent that tradeoffs in the quantity and quality of care are made, and the real-world risks and benefits of states easing their scope of practice restrictions. Findings, which suggest that NP care is comparable to physician care in most ways and that the quality of NP-delivered care does not significantly vary irrespective of states’ NP independence status, have important implications for policy and practice.