Can I See an NP Instead of a Doctor?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Nurse practitioners offer a unique focus on health and well-being. Discover several reasons why seeing an NP instead of a doctor may meet your needs.
    Featured ImageCredit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Yes, and despite the different titles, the care you receive is more alike than you might think.

    Nurse practitioners (NPs) are quickly becoming the healthcare provider of choice for many Americans. They are in the unique position of blending clinical expertise with an emphasis on health management and prevention.

    We answer some common questions about the care and attention you’ll receive from a nurse practitioner. Figure out when you should choose a nurse practitioner and discover the benefits of having an NP as your primary care provider.

    Benefits of Seeing a Nurse Practitioner

    There are 50 years of research that demonstrates NPs provide high-quality care across the life span. You may choose to seek care from a nurse practitioner in a primary care, acute care, or specialty service. Since 1965, NP care providers have offered safe, effective, evidence-based, and patient-centered care comparable to physicians.

    Research has shown that NP patients have fewer hospital readmissions, higher satisfaction, and fewer emergency room visits. Evidence indicates that nurse practitioners can successfully fill roles on primary care teams, such as teams for older adults with demanding health conditions like diabetes. Also, patients with complex healthcare needs experience lower healthcare costs.

    According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be an estimated shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. The shortages are anticipated to span both primary and nonprimary care specialties.

    This shortage creates a higher demand for nurse practitioners who can fill the role of primary care provider in many specialties, including:

    • Pediatrics
    • Geriatrics
    • Women’s health

    There are more benefits to seeing a nurse practitioner at your healthcare office visits. Patients have expressed higher levels of patient satisfaction than with other types of healthcare providers.

    One study found that NPs were more likely to provide healthcare management education than physicians. Another study found NPs provided lower costs and better quality patient care management.

    One of the benefits of seeing a nurse practitioner is that they are often more available than medical doctors (MDs). This means it takes less time to get an appointment, and they often spend more time with you during your appointment.

    When Should I See a Nurse Practitioner?

    There are many misconceptions about seeing an NP versus a doctor. But patients should feel comfortable seeing a nurse practitioner for most office visits. NPs can:

    • Manage chronic medical conditions
    • Provide primary care visits
    • Diagnose and treat chronic or acute illnesses

    Nurse practitioners have completed a master’s or doctoral degree. They have advanced clinical training in their specialty. NPs successfully work in various specialties providing the best care. NPs are also adept at making referrals when necessary.

    4 Things to Consider When Choosing a PCP

    Within the healthcare system, NPs and MDs often consult with each other. They work together to provide quality patient-centered care. However, there are several factors you should consider when choosing between a physician and an NP as your primary care provider (PCP).

    1. Is Your Provider “In-Network”?

    In most health plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, you pay less money when you see a provider who is “in-network.” Health plans have contracts with providers and practices to provide care for discounted rates.

    If you see an NP who is not in your health plan’s network, you may pay out-of-network charges, which can be much higher. Before scheduling an appointment with a new provider, check to be sure they accept your insurance plan.

    2. Your Provider Should Meet Your Health Needs

    Different types of healthcare professionals provide different types of primary care. For example:

    • A pediatric nurse practitioner provides care for newborns to adolescents. A geriatric NP provides care for those 65 years and older.
    • A family nurse practitioner treats patients throughout the life span, from birth to death.
    • An internal medicine NP will only treat adults.

    Practice offices with nurse practitioners may have a greater focus on education and preventive care. When choosing the right NP to see, be sure to find one who specializes in the care you need.

    3. Get Referrals

    When choosing a PCP, trust and communication are key. You’ll be discussing private and sensitive information with your practitioner. Ask your family members, coworkers, and friends for the name of the primary care provider they see. Your pharmacists and even your dentist may have a recommendation.

    4. Understand the Logistics

    Do you want a PCP close to your home or work? Would you like the office staff and provider to speak your native language? Does it matter if you have a male or female provider?

    You will also want to consider office hours, days the office is open, and how they handle after-hours phone calls. It is also important that you feel comfortable with your provider and not rushed. You should feel as if all your questions were answered and you are the priority during the visit.

    Choosing an NP for a Primary Care Provider

    According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, it is the “unique emphasis of the health and well-being of the whole person” that sets NPs apart from other healthcare providers.

    Nurse practitioners offer high-quality, patient-centered, evidence-based care that helps to cover the gap in the shortage of primary care physicians. Research data demonstrates NPs can lower healthcare costs and improve patient satisfaction in different settings.

    NPs are also more likely to spend time in healthcare management and preventive education, which helps lower the rate of rehospitalization and emergency room visits. These factors contribute to the overall success that nurse practitioners have in delivering quality patient care to people with a wide range of healthcare needs.

    As you consider who to choose as your primary care provider, remember that your primary care provider will be your confidante and your guide through healthcare and medical decisions.

    Making the right choice for you can help improve your health outcomes, lower your medical costs, and boost your overall health and wellness satisfaction.