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Pennsylvania is uniquely positioned to enact critical health care reforms that would empower additional providers to deliver quality health care to more patients — now, during the COVID-19 crisis, and in the future.
How would they work?
Even though advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) hold master’s degrees or doctorates, Pennsylvania still prevents them from treating many patients they’re fully qualified to treat.
Nurse practitioners must first secure a collaborative agreement — a mandatory contract — with a physician in the commonwealth. Under these contracts, physicians determine the tests and services nurses can offer, the types of patients they serve, and the settings they practice in. Unfortunately, supervising physicians often mistakenly believe that nurses cannot safely deliver care and curtail their ability to practice.
That prevents many nurses from offering their services to those in need.
SB 25 was passed by the Senate and its companion bill is now under consideration in the House. This legislation would put more health care providers to work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would grant full practice authority to APRNs who have been supervised by a physician for at least 3,600 hours. More registered nurses who can provide their services means more patients who can access treatment. SB 25 would improve health care access and outcomes in Pennsylvania.
Studies show that scope-of-practice laws addressed by SB 25 drive up the cost of care and don’t protect patients. The cost of child well-care visits is 3 to 16 percent lower in states where nurse practitioners can provide care freely, for example.
APRNs are well equipped to deliver a wide range of care. They can perform and interpret diagnostic tests, treat acute and chronic conditions, prescribe medications and other treatments, and manage a patient’s care.
“With SB 25, we can give those nurses the trust they deserve by removing those arbitrary barriers and allowing them the opportunity to provide the scope of care they’re trained to provide,” said Beth Anne Mumford, Americans for Prosperity regional director and Pennsylvania resident. “This would mean that they can do more to serve more patients in a way that they can’t today. And by expanding what nurses can do and how they care for patients, we expand the care that is available to patients.”
“That’s good for all of us,” she added.
If SB 25 is passed and signed, Pennsylvania will join 28 other states who have committed to empowering their APRNs to provide greater health care.
Also under consideration by the General Assembly is HB 15, the Telemedicine Act. This legislation which would enable more Pennsylvanians to use telemedicine to access their physicians — who would be able to diagnose and provide treatment to their patients — through long-distance electronic communication, such as video conferencing, phone calls, email, and remote monitoring.
The measure would provide a clear and concise definition of telemedicine so that providers and insurers have more clarity about what services they can provide. As a result, more providers would feel encouraged to offer telemedicine services within an open legal framework
The bill would allow licensed, out-of-state health care providers to deliver telehealth to Pennsylvania residents, including those receiving the service from federally qualified health centers and Veterans Affairs facilities. That would mean better access to health care for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
Now more than ever, remote care is essential to improving health care outcomes.
Social distancing through telemedicine is key to ensuring that providers aren’t overwhelmed with patients during the COVID-19 crisis. The service allows medical professionals to diagnose people remotely, encouraging vulnerable patients to seek in-person care, while allowing low-risk patients to recover at home.
When the COVID-19 crisis has passed, the Telemedicine Act will still help Pennsylvania’s patients.
“The exciting thing about telehealth, even beyond the immediate issues with COVID, is that it can also open up access for all sorts of patients to expert doctors with whom they may not otherwise be able to interact,” Mumford said. “Imagine a rural resident with a unique condition who can visit with the nation’s top expert treating that condition without having to drive hours or get on a plane to go to an appointment.”
In some fields, telemedicine has been shown to reduce wait times, cut costs, improve patient satisfaction, and of course, reduce driving time.
SB 25 and HB 15 would revolutionize health care in Pennsylvania for the better by empowering providers, often with innovative technologies.