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Southern Florida's nurse practitioners to take on doctor duties

A shortage of primary care physicians and rising healthcare costs are forcing Southern Florida's hospitals to find other health services provider options. Nurse practitioners, who are registered nurses with a specialized master's degree, are being asked to step to the plate and go to bat for Floridians in need of care.

While this may sound like a simple solution to physician shortage, the accreditation standards at nursing schools have not been raised yet. Though many nurse practitioners are capable of conducting duties typically reserved for doctors, some may not be so competent. In these instances, mistakes could be made resulting in nursing staff failure, medication error or a misdiagnosis. These mistakes could constitute hospital negligence and medical malpractice.

Blunders made by unqualified nurse practitioners can cause patient injury or death. Lawsuits can help victims and their families recover for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering, but these families can never be made truly whole again.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing wants nurse practitioners to acquire a doctorate degree in nursing practice by 2015. Though this may help nurse practitioners expand their medical knowledge, the title of "doctor" may confuse patients. When patients think they are seeing a primary care physician they might actually be seeing a nurse practitioner.

Proponents of this shift in care claim that higher accreditation standards at nursing schools set to go into effect by 2015 will produce higher caliber nurses capable of handling 90 percent of a patient's primary healthcare needs.

The two might be equally qualified to provide the care the patient is seeking, but the complex medical world of today requires patients to be fully informed of all diagnoses and treatments as well as who really is providing that information. Only then can patients make the proper decisions regarding their health.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "South Florida nurse practitioners handling more 'doctor' duties," Scott Travis, May 5, 2012

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