Theses Doctoral

Supporting the Nurse Practitioner Workforce in Primary Care Practices to Care for Patients with Multiple Chronic Conditions

McMenamin, Amy Laura

Multiple chronic conditions (MCCs) are defined as two or more health conditions, each requiring treatment and limiting activities for a year or more. In the United States (US), MCCs are more common and costly than any individual chronic condition. The number of adults aged 65 years and older with MCCs is projected to nearly double between 2020 and 2050. Patients with MCCs often experience poor self-reported health and negative symptoms. In addition, they frequently visit emergency departments (EDs) and are hospitalized. Patients with MCCs need ongoing primary care services to manage their symptoms and prevent health deterioration. However, over 20% of the US population (many of whom have MCCs) resides in a primary care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) and experiences poor access to primary care. The growing nurse practitioner (NP) workforce, which is projected to almost double in size between 2018 and 2030, can help meet the demand. Most NPs are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage chronic conditions and can provide a scope and quality of primary care comparable to physicians in many populations. Therefore, if distributed and supported strategically, the NP workforce can meet the complex care needs of patients with MCCs, especially in HPSAs.

Maximizing the potential of the NP workforce to deliver MCC care will require enhanced care environments in the practices where NPs work, characterized by administrative support for NP care delivery and autonomous practice, collegial relationships between NPs and physicians, and NP professional visibility. On the other hand, poor NP care environments can negatively affect the quality of chronic disease care. Thus, improving the NP care environments within practices may increase the capacity of the NP workforce to care for MCC patients.

Despite the potential of the NP workforce to meet the need for primary care among patients with MCCs, little is known about the impact of NP-delivered primary care models on outcomes in this population. Furthermore, the impact of HPSA status and NP care environments on NPs’ ability to care for patients with MCCs remains poorly understood. Thus, the overall purpose of this dissertation is to produce evidence on NP-delivered primary care models for patients with MCCs and examine the interplay between practice and community factors in shaping outcomes for these patients.

In chapter 1, we introduce the unique healthcare needs of patients with MCCs, and the role of NPs in delivering and expanding access to care.
In chapter 2, we synthesize the existing evidence on the effect of NP primary care models, compared to models without NP involvement, on cost, quality, and service utilization by patients with MCCs. Our synthesis suggests that NP-delivered primary care has similar or better impacts on outcomes among patients with MCCs compared to care delivered without NP involvement.

In chapter 3, we perform secondary data analysis using multiple linked data sources including 1) patient data from the Medicare claims of 394,424 older adults with MCCs, 2) NP survey data on practice characteristics from 880 NPs at 779 primary care practices across five US states, and 3) data on HPSA status of the practice locations from the Health Resources and Services Administration. We examine differences in hospitalization and ED use among patients who receive care from NP practices in HPSAs compared to those in non-HPSAs. We find a higher likelihood of ED use among patients receiving care in NP practices located in HPSAs compared to practices in non-HPSAs, and no difference in the likelihood of being hospitalized. Our results suggest that relieving provider shortages may reduce ED use by MCC patients in HPSA practices that employ NPs, but may be insufficient to lower hospitalization rates unless combined with other interventions.

Finally, in chapter 4, we analyze the same linked secondary data source as in chapter 3 to examine the effect of the NP care environment (measured by the NP survey) on the relationship between the HPSA status of the practice location and ED or hospital use among patients with MCCs. We find that the NP care environment moderates the association between primary care provider shortage areas and hospitalization but not ED use. Further analysis reveals that improved NP care environments have a more pronounced association with lowered odds of hospitalization among patients receiving care from practices located in areas with no shortage of primary care providers (i.e., non-HPSAs) compared to those receiving care in practices with provider shortages (i.e., HPSAs). Our findings suggest that improving the care environment may not have the effect of reducing MCC patients’ need for hospitalization unless sufficient providers are also available to care for patients. We suggest that cohesive solution sets addressing practice- and community-level interventions simultaneously may be needed to improve hospitalization outcomes for patients with MCCs.

In the concluding chapter of this dissertation, chapter 5, we present a summary of findings, discuss the dissertation’s strengths, limitations, and its contributions to science. In this chapter, we also discuss implications for policy, practice, and directions for future research.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Poghosyan, Lusine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 12, 2024