Hiring a physician assistant or nurse practitioner may be in your future

November 1, 2011

A survey by Merritt Hawkins found that patients wait 22.1 days on average to see a dermatologist, with waits ranging from 3.4 to 104.4 days, depending on the geographical location. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners offer dermatologists an excellent way to expand their availability to more patients, but the value of these advanced practice providers goes well beyond scheduling.

Key Points

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners offer dermatologists an excellent way to expand their availability to more patients, but the value of these advanced practice providers goes well beyond scheduling. More so than ever, dermatologists rely on these providers to extend quality medical care and provide a turbo boost to their practice's bottom line.

Follow these steps to ensure your new addition contributes positively to your practice - and your patients:

Query your malpractice carrier to determine whether it will cover physician assistants and nurse practitioners for the types of services you want them to perform. Don't assume your carrier's policy matches the state's scope of practice: Some may be more stringent, others more lax. As the supervising physician, you are responsible for the actions of the providers you employ.

Determine collaboration. While there is no "right" model for dermatology practices, decide whether you want your provider to work with you collaboratively, exclusively or to grow his/her own panel of patients.

Many dermatologists see new patients but offer established patients, particularly those with less complicated dermatologic needs, the option of seeing a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. These dermatologists embrace the model of working collaboratively with a provider who handles their patients' follow-up care.

In other practices, physician assistants and nurse practitioners not only treat the dermatologist's patients, they build their own panel of patients as well. Some limit the advanced practice provider to general dermatologic care, while others give them responsibility for surgical and cosmetic care as well.

At minimum, a provider can be tasked with gathering patient histories, providing patient counseling and so forth while you are seeing another patient. These tasks can be assigned to enhance your ability to see more patients in a shorter period of time.

Plan to train. Based on the background, education and experience of the physician assistant or nurse practitioner, you can design a training plan specific to their needs. A basic skills test is always in order before finalizing any training plan.

Every dermatology practice functions a bit differently, so most dermatologists find that having a provider shadow them for several weeks, if not months, is the best path.

Integrate successfully. The success of the physician assistant or nurse practitioner is largely up to you. Discuss the new provider's role with your staff, including what types of patients he or she will see so the provider can be scheduled appropriately.

Raise awareness among referring physicians about your new provider and address their concerns. The culture of your practice, the attitudes of your staff and your demonstration of confidence also contribute to the new provider's success.

Specifically recommend that patients follow up with your new provider, if applicable, and describe the new provider as a member of your clinical team. Provide patients with an introductory brochure featuring the provider's photo and bio. Add that information to your website and other marketing materials as well.