Nurses constitute the vast share of the healthcare workforce in most countries, including the United States. When it comes to primary care, they often provide a range of services similar to that of physicians, which creates the need to evaluate and compare performance between the two professions. The vast majority of studies on the topic compare the care provided by physicians and advanced practice nurses or nurse practitioners, and most results show that they offer a comparable quality of care, leading to similar patient outcomes.
For example, according to a review by McCleery, Christensen, Peterson, Humphrey, and Helfand (2014), there was no difference in patient outcomes at six months between patients in the nurse practitioner group and those assigned to a primary care physician. Moreover, the quality of life, mortality rates, and the incidence of urgent hospitalizations were also comparable between the two groups (McCleery et al., 2014).
However, some studies show evidence that nurse practitioners have a more positive influence on patient outcomes compared to physicians. For instance, Oliver, Pennington, Revelle, and Rantz (2014) report that the full practice of nurse practitioners is associated with lower mortality and hospital admission rates, as well as higher overall health outcomes. A systematic review and meta-analysis by Martínez-González et al. (2014) found evidence of a similar correlation, noting that the care provided by nurse practitioners resulted in similar or slightly lower mortality and a reduced risk of hospital admission in non-urgent care settings.
Moreover, the study reported that patients were generally more satisfied with nurse-led care than with physician-led care (Martínez-González et al.,2014). Based on the information above, nurse practitioners are capable of providing care comparable to physicians, and thus, in most cases, patient outcomes achieved by these two groups do not differ. In instances where nurse practitioners show slightly better results in terms of patient outcomes, this could be because they form better relationships with patients, thus improving adherence to recommendations.
Martínez-González, N. A., Djalali, S., Tandjung, R., Huber-Geismann, F., Markun, S., Wensing, M., & Rosemann, T. (2014). Substitution of physicians by nurses in primary care: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 14(1), 214-230.
McCleery, E., Christensen, V., Peterson, K., Humphrey, L., & Helfand, M. (2014). Evidence brief: The quality of care provided by advanced practice nurses. Web.
Oliver, G. M., Pennington, L., Revelle, S., & Rantz, M. (2014). Impact of nurse practitioners on health outcomes of Medicare and Medicaid patients. Nursing Outlook, 62(6), 440-447.