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State Proposals Would Help Nurses Better Treat Patients

AARP supports measures to cut red tape for advanced practice RNs

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Advanced practice registered nurses in Utah will be able to more fully treat patients and provide quicker access to care because of a new law that eliminates some of the red tape that frustrates these health practitioners and others in states across the country.

For example, in more than two dozen states, advanced practice nurses need a physician's sign-off to prescribe medications, give discharge instructions to hospital patients and even sign routine health-related consent forms.

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The new Utah law, which takes effect next week, will eliminate some of this physician oversight except for a nurse practitioner's first year of solo practice. AARP is working in states across the country to convince lawmakers to cut through the red tape that prevents patients — and their caregivers — from getting the timely care they need. So far this year, a law passed in Montana allows advanced practice nurses to approve such forms as juror excuses and hunting licenses. AARP helped defeat a measure in Kentucky that would have placed more restrictions on nurse practitioners, and lawmakers in nine other states are considering measures to improve the ability of these health care providers to treat patients.

"We don't need unnecessary layers of checks and balances when nurses are already well educated and responsible when it comes to prescribing medications,” says Beth Luthy, who directs the nurse practitioner program at Brigham Young University and has worked for a rural community health center in Salem, Utah, for the past 14 years. Advanced practice nurses like Luthy have extensive postgraduate education, including at least a master's degree and often a doctorate.

Luthy says that restrictions on nurse practitioners have made it more difficult for them to practice on their own, particularly in rural areas where primary care doctors are in short supply. In the clinic where she works, Luthy says, a doctor comes in once a week. “Even though I know what the patient needs, I have to wait for the physician to come in, sometimes the following week,” she says, to fully meet the patient's needs. “That means the patient is just waiting. It's really frustrating because we want what's best for patients — and that's timely and affordable easy access to care.”

"AARP believes that consumers deserve full access to the care nurses provide,” Susan Reinhard, an AARP senior vice president, a nurse and chief strategist for the Center to Champion Nursing in America, says in a blog celebrating National Nurses Week, which is May 6-12. “As critical as nurses are to our country's health, we know that we will not be able to effectively care for our aging population unless we can tap into the full potential of this powerful workforce."

Luthy says nurse practitioners also face national barriers to fully doing their jobs. For example, Medicare rules prohibit nurse practitioners from prescribing home care for a beneficiary. The same holds true for Medicare patients with diabetes who need therapeutic footwear or beneficiaries who need to be certified for hospice care. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners has been urging Congress to eliminate such federal barriers.

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