Purpose: To conduct a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of the safety and effectiveness of primary care provided by advanced practice nurses (APNs) and evaluate the potential of their deployment to help alleviate primary care shortages.
Data sources: PubMed, Medline and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature.
Study selection: RCTs and their follow-up reports that compared outcomes of care provided to adults by APNs and physicians in equivalent primary care provider roles were selected for inclusion.
Data extraction: Ten articles (seven RCTs, plus two economic evaluations and one 2-year follow-up study of included RCTs) met inclusion criteria. Data were extracted regarding study design, setting and outcomes across four common categories.
Results of data synthesis: The seven RCTs include data for 10 911 patients who presented for ongoing primary care (four RCTs) or same-day consultations for acute conditions (three RCTs) in the primary care setting. Study follow-up ranged from 1 day to 2 years. APN groups demonstrated equal or better outcomes than physician groups for physiologic measures, patient satisfaction and cost. APNs generally had longer consultations compared with physicians; however, two studies reported that APN patients required fewer consultations over time.
Conclusion: There were few differences in primary care provided by APNs and physicians; for some measures APN care was superior. While studies are needed to assess longer term outcomes, these data suggest that the APN workforce is well-positioned to provide safe and effective primary care.
Keywords: advanced practice nursing; nurse practitioners; primary care; quality of healthcare.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press in association with the International Society for Quality in Health Care; all rights reserved.