Background: A well established "midlevel" of patient care, such as nurse practitioners and/or physician assistants, exits in many countries like the US, Canada, and Australia. In Germany, however there is only one kind of profession assisting the physician in practices, the practice nurse. Little is known about the present involvement of practice nurses in patients' care in Germany and about the attitudes of GPs, assistants and patients concerning an increased involvement. The aim of our study was to get qualitative information on the extent to which practice nurses are currently involved in the treatment of patients and about possibilities of increased involvement as well as on barriers of increased involvement.
Methods: We performed qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 20 GPs, 20 practice nurses and 20 patients in the Heidelberg area. The interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed and content-analysed with ATLAS.ti.
Results: Practice nurses are only marginally involved in the treatment of patients. GPs as well as patients were very sceptical about increased involvement in care. Patients were sceptical about nurses' professional background and feared a worsening of the patient doctor relationship. GPs also complained about the nurses' deficient education concerning medical knowledge. They feared a lack of time as well as a missing reimbursement for the efforts of an increased involvement. Practice nurses were mostly willing to be more involved, regarding it as an appreciation of their role. Important barriers were lack of time, overload with administrative work, and a lack of professional knowledge.
Conclusion: Practice nurses were only little involved in patient care. GPs were more sceptical than patients regarding an increased involvement. One possible area, accepted by all interviewed groups, was patient education as for instance dietary counselling. New treatment approaches as the chronic care model will require a team approach which currently only marginally exists in the German health care system. Better medical education of practice nurses is indispensable, but GPs also have to accept that they cannot fulfil the requirement of future care alone.