Collaborative practice involving nurse practitioners (NPs) and family physicians (FPs) is undergoing a renaissance in Canada. However, it is not understood what services are delivered by FPs and NPs working collaboratively. One objective of this study was to determine what primary health care services are provided to patients by NPs and FPs working in the same rural practice setting.
Baseline data from 2 rural Ontario primary care practices that participated in a pilot study of an outreach intervention to improve structured collaborative practice between NPs and FPs were analyzed to compare service provision by NPs and FPs. A total of 2 NPs and 4 FPs participated in data collection for 400 unique patient encounters over a 2-month period; the data included reasons for the visit, services provided during the visit and recommendations for further care. Indices of service delivery and descriptive statistics were generated to compare service provision by NPs and FPs.
We analzyed data from a total of 122 encounters involving NPs and 278 involving FPs. The most frequent reason for visiting an NP was to undergo a periodic health examination (27% of reasons for visit), whereas the most frequent reason for visiting an FP was cardiovascular disease other than hypertension (8%). Delivery of health promotion services was similar for NPs and FPs (11.3 v. 10.0 instances per full-time equivalent [FTE]). Delivery of curative services was lower for NPs than for FPs (18.8 v. 29.3 instances per FTE), as was provision of rehabilitative services (15.0 v. 63.7 instances per FTE). In contrast, NPs provided more services related to disease prevention (78.8 v. 55.7 instances per FTE) and more supportive services (43.8 v. 33.7 instances per FTE) than FPs. Of the 173 referrals made during encounters with FPs, follow-up with an FP was recommended in 132 (76%) cases and with an NP in 3 (2%). Of the 79 referrals made during encounters with NPs, follow-up with an NP was recommended in 47 (59%) cases and with an FP in 13 (16%) (p < 0.001).
For the practices in this study NPs were underutilized with regard to curative and rehabilitative care. Referral patterns indicate little evidence of bidirectional referral (a measure of shared care). Explanations for the findings include medicolegal issues related to shared responsibility, lack of interdisciplinary education and lack of familiarity with the scope of NP practice.