According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 US adults (23.7%), or about 58.5 million people, have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Arthritis is more prevalent as the population ages. This means, as Americans grow older, they will have more arthritis compared to when they were younger. With people living longer lives, we can expect more newly diagnosed arthritis everyday. Where do all of these arthritis sufferers go for treatment? It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of physicians across the country. It’s estimated that by 2025, only 60% of primary care providers will be physicians. There are many types of arthritis. Arthritis can be medically managed by primary care providers, orthopedic specialists, rheumatologists, and sometimes even other specialists.
When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a specific type of arthritis, this is usually managed by a rheumatologist. According to UpToDate, goals in the medical treatment of RA are “to achieve remission of symptoms and signs of RA and prevent further damage of the joints and loss of function, without causing permanent or unacceptable side effects.” It’s important to have regular check-ups with a rheumatologist to achieve these goals. If you have RA, you already know this.
Getting the medical care you need can be tough with the current shortage of physicians and rheumatologists. One solution to the national shortage of rheumatologists is more Nurse Practitioners (NPs) in the Rheumatology field. According to this study from 2020. NPs are quickly becoming the provider of choice for millions of Americans. These NPs can “represent rheumatology colleagues who can extend the reach of the delivery of rheumatic disease care.”
In response to the national rheumatologist shortage, there are more nurse practitioners that specialize in rheumatology. This experienced group of medical providers has become an integral part in the field. Here’s a little more information about what a nurse practitioner, or NP, is.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a Nurse Practitioner (NP) combines comprehensive medical experience and training with a personal touch. All NPs started as a registered nurse and have some experience working in this role first. All NPs have completed a master’s or doctoral degree program in addition to their undergraduate Bachelor’s degree. They also have advanced clinical, hands-on training. Usually this training is specific to the specialty in which they work. NPs typically have a state license as well as a national certification. This includes periodic peer review, clinical outcome evaluations, and adherence to a code of ethics. There are also continuing education and professional development requirements that are structured and tracked by each individual state. Some NPs participate in legislative decisions, professional and lay forums, and conduct research. NPs are licensed in all states and the District of Columbia. Each state has its own rules and regulations, with slight differences and requirements. Some NPs maintain licenses in multiple states so they can practice medicine in a broader geographic area. This also allows for telehealth services in greater geographic regions of the country. Whether they work autonomously or in collaboration with another health care professional is determined at the state level as well. You can use this map to check the practice environment for NPs in your state. NPs are very credible. They often serve as mentors, educators, researchers, administrators, and role models for the next generation of healthcare providers. NPs can also lower health care costs by treating the patient as a whole person which usually leads to less emergency room visits and shorter hospital stays. Patients typically have higher satisfaction with NPs, because NPs usually have personable and caring personalities. This article from 2019 found patient satisfaction with NPs to be very high!
Broadly speaking, nurse practitioners can:
- Assess you with a comprehensive physical exam.
- Diagnose most medical conditions, and when they cannot, they can refer you to someone who can.
- Order labwork, testing, imaging, and most therapies.
- Interpret the above medical tests as well as testing done by other providers or at other facilities.
- Prescribe medications.
- Collaborate in the care of most patients.
When you have RA, you know the progressive and irreversible damage of the untreated disease does not slow down or wait for anything… Especially not the next available appointment! Rheumatologists that are practicing now are getting older and less medical students are going into rheumatology. The role that a nurse practitioner (NP) plays in your rheumatology group may vary state to state and even practice to practice. The experience and training may also vary. More often than not, you’re able to see the NP sooner than the rheumatologist. Rheumatologists usually work closely with the NPs in the group to ensure quality care, too. They want you to get the care you need! NPs can be a great option for rheumatological care.
Is there a time when you should see a rheumatologist? Absolutely. Typically, for the first visit, initial diagnosis, a second opinion, or if your current treatments have stopped working. Also, if you’re looking for new, experimental, or off-label treatments, you should see a rheumatologist. Typically, medical offices that include NPs are collaborative and the NP can arrange any care or treatments that you may need, including playing a role in expediting this process.
NPs are highly skilled, highly experienced and highly trusted. This group of medical professionals has been practicing in America for several decades. Would you like to know more about the history of the NP role? Check out this historical timeline. No matter who you see for your appointment, you’ll get high quality care.