Role of Nurse Practitioners in Caring for Patients With Complex Health Needs

Med Care. 2020 Oct;58(10):853-860. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001364.


Objective: The objective of this study was to estimate trends in the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries cared for by nurse practitioners from 2012 to 2017, to characterize beneficiaries cared for by nurse practitioners in 2017, and to examine how the percentage of beneficiaries cared for by nurse practitioners varies by practice characteristics.

Design: An observational study of 2012-2017 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries' ambulatory visits. We computed the percentage of beneficiaries with 1 or more ambulatory visits from nurse practitioners and the percentage of beneficiaries receiving the plurality of their ambulatory visits from a nurse practitioner versus a physician (ie, predominant provider). We compared beneficiary demographics, clinical characteristics, and utilization by the predominant provider. We then characterized the predominant provider by practice characteristics.

Key results: In 2017, 28.9% of beneficiaries received any care from a nurse practitioner and 8.0% utilized nurse practitioners as their predominant provider-an increase from 4.4% in 2012. Among beneficiaries cared for by nurse practitioners in 2017, 25.9% had 3 or more chronic conditions compared with 20.8% of those cared for by physicians. Beneficiaries cared for in practices owned by health systems were more likely to have a nurse practitioner as their predominant provider compared with those attending practices that were independently owned (9.3% vs. 7.0%).

Conclusions: Nurse practitioners are caring for Medicare beneficiaries with complex needs at rates that match or exceed their physician colleagues. The growing role of nurse practitioners, especially in health care systems, warrants attention as organizations embark on payment and delivery reform.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Chronic Conditions / therapy*
  • Nurse Practitioners / trends*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / trends
  • United States