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Nurse practitioners a welcome move

Patients believe nurse practitioners provide more choice and better access to primary care, research found.

Australians know the difference between being sick and needing a doctor and those "everyday health concerns" when a nurse practitioner would suffice, preliminary research shows.

The Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) says its research shows Australians were comfortable with the newly expanded role to be taken on by specially trained nurses.

Under changes which took effect from Monday, nurse practitioners can provide fee-for-service work within the community with their work covered by the Medicare Benefits Scheme.

They can also prescribe certain drugs subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS), and both are significant moves into territory once the sole domain of doctors.

"People told us they know when they need to see a GP and when they could see another health professional," said Associate Professor Rhian Parker from the APHCRI, which is based at the Australian National University.

Parker said early research suggested Australians felt nurse practitioners were "good listeners" and could "spend more time with patients compared with general practitioners".

They could cater for "everyday health concerns, such as repeat prescriptions and minor illnesses, to free up GPs to manage more complex conditions".

They would be able to provide people with "more choice and better access to primary care" while promoting shorter waiting times for those patients who needed to see a GP.

Parker said an online poll was underway to further gauge public opinion on the changes.

"The national survey we are conducting will give us a more comprehensive understanding of what Australians think about nurse practitioners providing primary health care services," Parker said.

The poll, to be conducted over a month, is available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/nursesinprimaryhealthcare.

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