We used an explanatory single case study of one purposively selected health authority with three embedded sub-units of analysis (PHC settings) that were also purposively selected [39
]. Variation among the settings included geographic location, model of care, and patient populations. Table illustrates the model of care, population density and patient population of each unit of analysis.
From our data collection we learned that the decision to hire an NP in PHC settings was determined in one of two ways: 1) an administrative directive from senior health authority managers, and 2) approval of proposals developed and submitted to the NP steering committee by managers from PHC settings. Either way, the process did not require involvement of other team members in early discussions.
For example, the process used in the physician office (PHC 1) and the seniors care centre (PHC 2) involved senior health authority managers meeting with the physicians who indicated interest in the NP role and/or developing project proposals that were submitted to a federal government initiative called the Primary Health Care Transition Fund [40
] for funding. Similarly, the managers who submitted proposals to the NP steering committee were not required to involve team members in the writing of the proposal. As a result of this top down approach to implementation, before the NP was hired, few team members participated in efforts to determine a need for an NP or how the addition of an NP would change care delivery.
This was significant because at the time most of the NPs in this study were hired (2007 & 2008) the role was new to BC, having been legislated in 2005. As a result, team members in PHC settings were unfamiliar with the role and had little knowledge of how best to use the NP’s capabilities. The first BC NPs, who graduated in 2005, had been mentored by family physicians during their educational programs because there were no registered NPs in the province until 2006. This meant that the first NP graduates had only been exposure to the NP role through NP faculty members teaching in the programs. Therefore, NPs were hired into settings where few, if any, team members were involved in hiring the NP, and where they had not participated in discussions of how the NP would function, the types of patients the NP care for, nor how the NP role interfaced with other roles in the settings.
Intentions for NP Role implementation
Before the NP was hired, study participants were aware that the health authority intended for NPs to provide direct patient care for various populations such as elderly, or people with chronic diseases. However, for participants, knowing that NPs were expected to increase access to care for patients, improve patient outcomes, and the function of interdisciplinary teams did not provide insight into how an NP would be expected to enact the role or function within the existing team. In all three settings, after the NP was hired team members, including professional staff, physicians, other community providers, and managers had to work together to identify or clarify role expectations and determine how the NP would function as a new team member.
After the NP was hired, unexpected changes, such as the retirement of a physician in PHC 1 and increasing the age of the patient population in PHC 2, precipitated the need for participants to clarify how the NP would function. The original intent in PHC 1 was that the NP would co-manage patients with chronic diseases; however, after a physician unexpectedly retired, the team needed to reassign the physician’s patients to another provider. In PHC 2 shortly after the NP was hired, the age of new patients admitted to the centre increased from 55 years and older to 70 years and older. Many of the new older people were frail and had more complex care needs.
In both instances, team members approached senior health authority managers for assistance in understanding how to proceed with implementation. Because participants were unfamiliar with the NP role, they wanted more direction and structure from senior managers and looked to them for advice.
"I think that for any organization that is looking at employing a nurse practitioner there needs to be managerial support, logistical support, and practice support from the beginning. I can’t stress this enough. There is a need for more than getting the nurse practitioner’s office set up and computer access, those kinds of things were all fine. But when it came to the day to day types of things there needs to be a bit more support from upper management."
Senior health authority managers responded to these requests but the response took three months in PHC 2 and, because of turnover of health authority managers, six months in PHC 1. These delays slowed the teams’ discussions of the most appropriate patients for the NP to follow, made it difficult for team members to obtain mutual understandings of role functions, and, in PHC 2, contributed to turnover of NPs.
In addition to senior health authority managers, participants remarked that team members also looked to NPs to explain their role, and although new in the role, NPs assumed leadership in varying degrees to define it.
"[NP] certainly exhibited leadership with the team, helping the team understand the nurse practitioner role, showing leadership in terms of clinical competencies, and development and professional standards. [NP] also demonstrates leadership in looking at patient populations and helping the team consider how to deliver care differently."
The NP’s knowledge and understanding of the role and ability to explain it to others contributed to the team’s appreciation for how the NP would function. Ultimately, after the NP was hired, team members worked together to clarify the types of patients the NP would follow and how the NP would function within the team.
"I think that there may have been a little bit more expectation when it was set up that the nurse practitioner would deal with populations that the health authority, as an organization, had chosen as key populations that they felt had gaps in service. I think that changed as the nurse practitioner role developed in the clinic because the clinic had its own needs. So it developed according to the clinic’s populations and needs rather than what the health authority had seen as their populations. It was different in each clinic because the health authority was looking at a very large population and pockets of patients who may not be appropriate in one area."
The process of working together to clarify the intentions and expectations of how the NP would function in each setting to match the needs of the clinic evolved over time and required time commitments from team members. Because planning for the role took time and this work was not initiated before NPs were hired, it had to occur afterwards. During this time, while team members worked to define the role, the NPs were constrained in how they practiced.
Defining the role
Participants were asked to define the NP role based on their experience working with the NP. All participants related most readily to the clinical aspects of the role, and believed the NP was additive to the team, a bonus. One participant defined the role broadly:
"The nurse practitioner is primarily a nurse who has expanded training in diagnosis and treatment. [NP’s] role on a day to day basis is to manage the care of patients that present to the clinic, whether they’re [NP’s] own patients or the clinic’s patients. [NP] manages episodic, simple primary care problems like a sore throat and complete physicals and chronic disease management and women’s health. Because as a nurse the nurse practitioner has the skills and training to look at the patient’s needs from more of a holistic, psycho-social as well as physical aspect [NP] can manage more fully the whole impact of the patient’s illness or wellness and also deal with the family."
"On the other hand when the patient becomes more complex medically, [NP] then knows when to turn the patient over or consult with a physician, whether it’s a one off consult, “what’s your opinion” or it’s a hand off consult, “this is beyond my scope of practice”. The nurse practitioner role is in primary care management of episodic illness, chronic diseases, promoting wellness, education of patients and their families, as well as contributing to planning for the communities’ needs from a health standpoint and providing some leadership with other members of the medical community including other health team members like physio [physiotherapist], OT [occupational therapist], other nurses, LPNs [Licensed Practice Nurse], clerical staff."
NPs in all three settings worked full-time and reported that they spent at least 75% of their time providing direct patient care. In PHC 1, participants recognized that the NP managed more complex patients and practiced differently than the RNs. They also believed that, as a salaried employee, the NP spent time with patients focusing on chronic disease management, health promotion, and self-care management. Similarly, participants in PHC 2 commented on the NP’s ability to see the “big picture”. They remarked that she identified patients in need of community resources and collaborated with all members of the team, as well as community agencies. The NP in PHC 3 was described by participants as the missing piece to the team and complemented the efforts of other team members to provide comprehensive patient care. Participants acknowledged that NPs spent more time with patients than physicians, and provided more patient education related to self-care management of health conditions, as this participant noted:
"I think in terms of the primary health care setting, they function sometimes better than the physicians. Because nurse practitioners are not in a fee-for-service agreement, they have more time to spend with each patient in terms of counseling services. Family physicians usually don’t have enough time to fully counsel patients with regards to the conditions. It sometimes takes a few visits to go over all the details family physicians want to go through. But with [NP] because of the freedom of time offers a better service than family physicians."
The NP was also viewed as a competent, knowledgeable provider who offered comprehensive patient care and who was an asset to the overall team. Participants related that, as they witnessed the NP’s practice and their knowledge and understanding of the NP role increased, they developed trust in the NP’s capabilities and saw the value of the role. The ability of team members to define the role within the context of the PHC setting required time and effort on the part of all team members and did not come easily.
In all settings, NPs expected that they would have a physical space in which to practice. A participant described the need to plan for space in which the NP would practice:
"It is important to prepare the site ahead of time. By preparing, I mean look at what we are doing now and what it is going to look like when an NP comes. Rather than appending the role to the existing team, it involves the re-creation of the whole team. Team development is important and it needs to begin before NPs are hired so there is a space for them when they come in."
In PHC 2 an office space and examination room was not identified for the NP until after she was hired. Similarly, in PHC 3, once the NP was hired, the team had to reassess the most appropriate place for the NP to practice. After consulting with community stakeholders, they determined that the best place for the NP to see patients was in a community resource centre. It took four months for that space to be identified. Lack of physical space was a barrier to the NPs’ practice because the NPs in PHC 2 and PHC 3 could not begin to practice until space was identified. A participant related the need to have designated space for the NP before the NP is hired:
"There is a need to get the system clearer upfront and have designated room for an NP. It is not fair if the nurse practitioner doesn’t have a decent examination room. The nurse practitioner is part of the team and everyone should have a working station. The nurse practitioner needs a room like physicians. They need to have an exam room with curtains and everything."
Participants thought there should have been a system in place for planning for the NP by designating physical space where the NP would practice before the NP was hired.
PHC 1 was established as a 24 month demonstration project, with no guarantee that the NP would be in the setting over the long term. All participants were aware of this, however, 18 months into the project, senior health authority managers had not communicated with the NP or others about any plans for the future of the project and the NP’s position. Without knowledge of the health authority’s plans, participants were unsure of the sustainability of the role, and this contributed to the NP’s decision not to admit any new patients until the future of the role was clarified.
Reflecting on the implementation process, in all three settings participants identified the need to plan, in advance, for the addition of an NP, to identify expectations, and to identify appropriate space for where the NP would practice. One participant described it this way:
"What I would do differently? First of all, we still have a ways to go before we can take a package that says “all of these things have to be done in this order when the nurse practitioner starts” so that on the NP’s first day everything is in place. If the planning is done before the NP is hired, on the first day of work everybody will know what the role is. Any ground work would be done prior to the NP starting work."
Maybe better exploration of what the clinic thought the role would be. Although, sometimes it’s nice for them to evolve it on their own, because it makes the nurse practitioner, the office managers, all of the clericals and the physicians to work through a PDA (plan, do, act) cycle to see what works best. I’m not sure you can really mould the role beforehand. However, I think we need to make sure everybody is clear on what the potential for the role is and where nurse practitioners could be used. But I wouldn’t want to be too stringent on what we’re doing because I think it changes.
Involvement of managers, physicians, and other staff in role implementation
Few team members were involved in the early stages of implementation, when plans were first made to hire an NP. Participants in PHC 1 and PHC 3 were aware that discussions were taking place or a proposal had been submitted, but they were not directly involved. In these two settings, participants indicated that this was not problematic for them. Yet, in PHC 2, the lack of team involvement in the decision of when to hire another NP after the first NP resigned was awkward. A participant remarked:
"We all knew from day one there would be an NP. So it wasn’t a surprise that another nurse practitioner was being hired. But the way in which the NP came in was not particularly clear and in hind sight that made it even harder. Somewhere along the way somebody’s communication went a bit astray."
Inadequate involvement created problems for participants in PHC 2. They related that they were less invested in the process because of their lack of involvement in the NP hiring plans.
In PHC 1 the NP mailed letters to community providers describing the role, however, once medical specialists received patient referrals from the NP or a patient presented prescriptions written by the NP to local pharmacies, these providers called the office asking for clarification of the NP’s role. Others in the office, such as the business manager and the RNs were involved in fielding these calls. In PHC 2 team members were involved in discussions of which patients to schedule appointments with the NP. In PHC 3 the manager and lead RN were involved in identifying community service agencies that provided services to the same population with whom the NP worked.
In PHC 1 people living in the community and other providers were not consulted or advised of plans to hire an NP. The NP role was new in the community and, in the absence of early community involvement or an announcement; these stakeholders had no knowledge of the NP’s capabilities or presence in the community. In contrast, in PHC 3 discussions were held with physicians and members of community agencies involved with caring for people with mental health and addictions before the NP was hired. A participant from PHC 3 described the process used to include these stakeholder groups as:
"We pulled together groups of people that were related to people with profound mental health problems. We talked to hospital nurses, some of the local First Nations workers that have history of working with these people, the Friendship Centre, a few clergy people, and local doctors."
Although there was limited involvement of community stakeholders in each setting, their early involvement was important.
Moreover, in all three settings, patients in the practices were unaware of the NP role and participants acknowledged that they needed to encourage patients to schedule an appointment to meet and get to know the NP. Patients needed to trust the NP before they allowed the NP to provide their care, and there were times when patients were unwilling to schedule an appointment with the NP, as one participant described:
"Occasionally I would take a call from a patient and they would want a doctor and I would say “our nurse practitioner could handle your problem” and they would go “no I want a doctor.”"
Involvement of the managers in all three settings was critical. In general, managers supported novice NPs to identify space in which to work, obtain equipment and meet key stakeholders. Moreover, the managers in all three settings supported the NPs to participate in the community of practice, and facilitated discussions of how the NP could be used in the setting. A participant described the manager’s involvement:
"Well I think advocating for the role and trying to negotiate and understand where everyone was coming from because everybody has their own world to live in. Trying to figure out how to best meet everybody’s needs and still ensure that the patient gets the test and the nurse practitioner has the information needed to manage patients. And also advocating for the nurse practitioner role and paving the way for other nurse practitioners to come."
In the event managers were unable to answer team members’ questions or concerns related to how to use the NP, they looked to senior health authority managers who had been responsible for establishing strategic direction for NP role implementation to clarify organizational intent.
Acceptance of NP role implementation
In the PHC settings, according to participants, team members needed time to become acquainted with the NP and gain a better understanding of the role before accepting the NP as a new team member. A participant described one way this was accomplished:
"We had a number of meetings with the nurse practitioner and the team, the nurse practitioner and the physicians, reviewing the standards, limits, and conditions of the role and all that sort of stuff and really trying to be clear about what the nurse practitioner could do."
As well, community providers, such as medical specialists, wanted to become acquainted with the NP’s competencies and scope of practice before their acceptance occurred.
Team members’ acceptance of the NP role was influenced by their involvement in clarifying the intentions for the role, their increased understanding of what the NP would do in the practice setting, and trusting in the NP’s capabilities. One participant noted, “Everyone needs to trust the nurse practitioner and if they trust that the nurse practitioner knows what he or she is doing, they’re a little more comfortable.” Other factors, such as prior knowledge of the individual NP, the NP’s personal attributes, and patient acceptance also contributed to the team’s willingness to work with the NP. In all three settings, the NP had previously spent time as a student NP in the practice setting or in the community in which the setting was located.
Prior knowledge and acquaintance with the NP, for example working in the setting as an RN or spending time in the setting as a student NP prior to being hired, allowed acceptance to develop more quickly as a participant described:
"[NP] had been working here as a nurse and has been on the team. We knew that [NP] was attending a nurse practitioner program and hoped to transition into a nurse practitioner role somewhere. When the position came up we were quite aware of the timing and honestly I think that we all hoped that [NP] would end up here. We knew [NP] and very much respected [NP’s] abilities and enjoyed [NP’s] personality."
Prior knowledge by team members of the NP as a student NP or as an RN, gave those team members an opportunity to establish a relationship, become aware of the NP’s capabilities, and develop trust. Various participants described NPs as knowledgeable with good communication skills. NPs also assumed leadership roles by working collaboratively with other team members to help them understand the role which also facilitated team acceptance.
Patients cared for by the mental health care team (PHC 3) typically did not readily accept new health care providers. It took time for patients in this setting to trust the NP. This was also true in the other two settings. Without patients’ prior knowledge of the role, or an understanding of how NPs functioned, establishing trusting relationships in all settings took time. Despite patients’ initial hesitation, once they were acquainted with the NP they were satisfied with their care and accepted the NP, as described by this participant:
"The patients took to [NP] quickly. And I don’t think we were really surprised at that. Once they realized [NP] could do everything a doctor could do and once they met and saw the extra time and care [NP] gave they were satisfied. Patients liked [NP’s] caring approach and that they didn’t feel rushed. [NP] explained things very well in terms they could understand. [NP] is very knowledgeable and that was obvious to them. [NP] knew what [NP] was talking about and they felt very confident in what [NP] told them."
Before the NP was hired, participants typically had a limited awareness or knowledge of the role, and acceptance of the NP within the team had to occur after the NP was hired. In PHC 1 and PHC 2, where the team knew the NP, acceptance of happened more quickly. Nonetheless, although team members may have been accepting of the idea of an NP, it was only after the NP was hired that acceptance of the individual NP occurred. Although we did not originally identify community members as stakeholders, it is clear that their involvement, knowledge and awareness of the NP role facilitated their acceptance, and acceptance of the role by all stakeholders was closely connected to their prior knowledge of the individual NP, and clarifying the intentions for the role.
NP Role enactment
Implementing the NP role was influenced by how well others understood expectations for the role and their acceptance of the individual NP. Acceptance was influenced by prior knowledge of the NP and involvement in determining how the NP would function in the setting. In turn, the ability of the NP to actually carry out expectations and enact the role was influenced by how the role was implemented. We asked NPs to describe how they were enacting the role competencies of clinical practice, leadership, collaboration and change agent and research. Based on their descriptions we were able to determine that NPs were incorporating all of these competencies into their role.
Based on the findings from this study, we developed a conceptual framework, Figure , indicating the interconnectedness of intention, involvement and acceptance and their influence the process of NP role implementation and NP role enactment. Although we identified the concepts from the literature, their relationship to the implementation process was unclear.
Context of the health Authority.
In this model the concepts of intention, involvement, and acceptance are interconnected indicating how they simultaneously influence role enactment and implementation. The concepts are situated with the context of the health authority in which the role was implemented. Through analysis we were able to determine that these concepts are interconnected and each is influenced by the other and all influence NP role implementation and enactment.
Summary of key findings
In summary, we found that planning for the role beforehand and long-term planning after the NP was hired were important to help team members better understand the reason the NP role was implemented. Once the NP was hired team members needed to clarify the intentions for the role primarily because they were not involved earlier in the process and did not have a clear understanding of it. In the early stages of implementation, and immediately after the NP was hired, team members sought support and guidance from senior management within the health authority to clarify the intentions for the role. Unexpected changes in patient populations and/or in the context of the setting influenced how the NP would function. Acceptance of the NP was facilitated by team members’ prior knowledge of either the role or the individual. Community stakeholders who needed to or were expected to interact with the NP wanted to be involved in the implementation process and their acceptance of the NP developed as they gained knowledge and understanding of the role. Finally, although relatively new in their roles, approximately two years after being hired, NPs were enacting, to some degree, all competencies of the role as defined by CRNBC.