Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Monday, December 11, 2023

Senior Healthcare Providers Explained: PA, NP, MD and DO

As a shortage of general practitioner physicians escalates, other healthcare professionals are stepping up to fill in the gap. But is seeing one of them the equivalent to meeting with a doc?

It’s becoming more difficult to find a physician for treatment in the US. The Association of American Medical Colleges released a report that estimates a shortfall of somewhere between 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by 2034. Many of these (17,800 to 48,000) will be primary care physicians. 

House Calls for Seniors

You may have thought that house visits went out with the horse and buggy, but they’ve seen a welcome revival. Many healthcare groups offer the service, often to patients who are homebound or have limited ability to travel. They may also serve older populations at senior care facilities. Sometimes they serve to check on patients recently released by hospitals to check on follow-up care and reduce readmissions. 

These professionals are often nurse practitioners, although they may be doctors or physician assistants. Some practice independently specifically to travel to where their patients are living. If you’re interested, search “healthcare house calls near me” to check on availability in your area. 

What is a D.O.?

With so many acronyms floating about in the healthcare arena, it’s no wonder you may have questions about what less-familiar ones mean. That’s often the case with doctors who have “D.O.” behind their name. Both medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) graduate from medical school, complete a residency program and can choose to specialize in an area of treatment. 

The difference lies in their philosophy of treatment. MDs are allopathic doctors who practice mainstream medicine. DOs, on the other hand, add holistic and preventive health to conventional medicine. Some DOs include manual techniques, such as hands-on work on joints and tissues, in their practice of medicine. They may become physicians or surgeons and have full medical and surgical practicing rights in all 50 states. 

As a consequence, more general health care is being handled by nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). However, a recent survey found a reluctance among the general public to see these healthcare experts, even for minor concerns. There is a broad lack of understanding regarding what these professionals are able to do, and the extent of their medical training. 

Who’s Best for Senior Care

Seniors have more healthcare needs than other age groups. It’s particularly important that older adults can trust NPs and PAs with their care as more of these professionals are seeing patients, especially for routine care that might ordinarily be handled by a primary physician. 

Here’s a rundown of the different credentials and what they represent.

  • Physician. Medical doctors have eight years of education after high school and spend three to eight years in residency. Annual board certification maintenance is required. They need no supervision to prescribe medication, perform exams, order and interpret tests, perform surgeries, or diagnose and treat illness. 
  • Nurse Practitioner. With a Master’s Degree in Nursing, NPs spend a total of six to eight years in higher education, but none in residency. However, they are required to spend 1,000 hours in professional practice plus earn 12 continued education credits annually or opt to pass an exam every five years. Just like doctors, they can practice independently in many states, prescribe medication, perform exams, order and interpret tests, and diagnose and treat illness. They may also assist in surgeries. 
  • Physician Assistant. Every PA earns a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant studies and is physician assistant-certified. This schooling takes six to seven years to complete, with an optional one or two years in residency. PAs must complete 100 hours of additional education every two years and pass an exam every ten years. They must be supervised by a physician and can prescribe medication. Like nurse practitioners, physician assistants can perform exams, order and interpret tests, and diagnose and treat illness. They may also assist in surgeries. 

Which one is best to handle your care? The truth is, it’s the provider who you feel is responsive to your needs. Each of these professionals is qualified and able to perform routine care. Nurse practitioners can specialize in areas including gerontology, mental health, and women’s health. With a more generalized education, PAs can specialize in areas such as emergency medicine, orthopedics, and general surgery. 

The bottom line is that there’s no reason not to see a Nurse Practitioner or PA for the majority of your healthcare needs. They are highly trained professionals who are becoming more prevalent in healthcare facilities across the country. When so much of satisfaction with a provider depends on trust, it’s worth getting to know a variety of professionals to find someone who fits well with your expectations.