Amid doctor shortage, NPs and PAs seemed like a fix. Data’s in: Nope.

via AMA

An examination of cost data for the South Mississippi system’s accountable care organization (ACO) revealed that care provided by nonphysician providers working on their own patient panels was more expensive than care delivered by doctors.

This prompted Hattiesburg Clinic leaders to redesign the clinic’s care model and to publish their findings. Hattiesburg Clinic employed a total of 26 physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) in 2005 and today there are 118. Along with certified registered nurse anesthetists and optometrists, they are part of a team of 186 nonphysician providers at the clinic, also called advanced practice providers (APPs).

“Over the past 15 years, in the face of physician shortages, especially in primary care, Hattiesburg Clinic made decisions to expand our care teams with the use of advanced practice providers,” says a study entitled “Targeting Value-based Care with Physician-led Care Teams” that was published in the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

“Focusing specifically on primary care, because our shortage of physicians there was so dire—due to retirements, massive panel sizes and lack of medical students entering primary care residencies—we allowed APPs to function with separate primary care panels, side by side with their collaborating physicians,” the study adds.

In hindsight and “with a wealth of internal data,” which includes cost data on more than 33,000 patients enrolled in Medicare, “the results are consistent and clear: By allowing APPs to function with independent panels under physician supervision, we failed to meet our goals in the primary care setting of providing patients with an equivalent value-based experience.”

A private multispecialty clinic with more than 300 physicians, Hattiesburg Clinic is a member of the AMA Health System Program. Its ACO was ranked first in quality in its cohort in 2016 and 2017, amongst a total of 471 other participants, and has been recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for delivering high-quality care at a low cost.

The 2017–2019 CMS cost data on Medicare patients without end-stage renal disease and who were not in a nursing home showed that per-member, per-month spending was $43 higher for patients whose primary health professional was a nonphysician instead of a doctor. This could translate to $10.3 million more in spending annually if all patients were followed by APPs, says the analysis. When risk-adjusted for patient complexity, the difference was $119 per member, per month, or $28.5 million annually…

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