The impact of nonphysician clinicians: do they improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care services?

Med Care Res Rev. 2009 Dec;66(6 Suppl):36S-89S. doi: 10.1177/1077558709346277.


Health care is changing rapidly. Unacceptable variations in service access and quality of health care and pressures to contain costs have led to the redefinition of professional roles. The roles of nonphysician clinicians (nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists) have been extended to the medical domain. It is expected that such revision of roles will improve health care effectiveness and efficiency. The evidence suggests that nonphysician clinicians working as substitutes or supplements for physicians in defined areas of care can maintain and often improve the quality of care and outcomes for patients. The effect on health care costs is mixed, with savings dependent on the context of care and specific nature of role revision. The evidence base underpinning these conclusions is strongest for nurses with a marked paucity of research into pharmacists and physician assistants. More robust evaluative studies into role revision are needed, particularly with regard to economic impacts, before definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Health Policy
  • Health Services / economics*
  • Health Services / standards*
  • Humans
  • Pharmacists
  • Physician's Role
  • Quality of Health Care*