Scope of practice regulations originated as a means to protect the public from healthcare practitioners administering care they were unqualified to provide, due to differences in training. Emerging emphasis on patient-centered care where nurses, physicians, and other members of the care team practice to the fullest extent of their training has focused attention on the potential advantages of expanded scope of practice in overall care delivery.
Provider scope of practice regulations define the breadth of services a given type of healthcare professional is permitted to provide based on their level of education, training and experience. While physicians have traditionally been considered the ‘leaders’ of the healthcare delivery team, non-physician providers across the medical, dental and behavioral health spectrum are trained to perform tasks that can improve healthcare value and lower costs. These providers include physician assistants (PAs), dental therapists, dental hygienists and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)—a term that includes certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), certified nurse midwives, nurse practitioners (NPs) and clinical nurse specialists.
Currently, non-physician providers can face a variety of regulatory barriers that may limit their independent practice authority, prescribing authority and hospital attending/admitting privileges. In some states, scope of practice laws limit the extent to which physicians can delegate tasks and services to non-physician providers.
This brief explores how relaxing regulatory barriers facing non-physician practitioners has the potential to significantly increase access to providers, improve quality and lower the cost of providing care.