What Are They?

A Nurse Practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) with advanced education and clinical training who provides an array of health care, including the diagnosis and management of common as well as complex medical conditions.

NPs specialize in specific areas of care like gerontology or women’s health and work independently or in collaboration with a physician practice, depending on individual state regulations. With training focused on the medical/nursing model, NPs bring a comprehensive perspective to health care. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, what sets NPs apart from other health care providers is “their unique emphasis on the health and well-being of the whole person.”

It makes sense for caregivers and those with Alzheimer's to rely on nurse practitioners for routine care in many situations, Capuzeti says. “We're talking about the type of patients that need lots of supportive care in terms of how to do the day-to-day, the functional things, as well as the medical primary care.”

Physician Assistants, or PAs, also provide routine care — they perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret labs, imaging and other diagnostic tests, counsel patients about wellness and preventive health care, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications. They follow a medical/physician model of care, focusing mostly on disease diagnosis, treatment and management. PAs practice under physician supervision, although task delegation can be very broad, depending upon specific state regulations.

The influx of people into the health system from the Affordable Care Act, and the wave of aging baby boomers who need geriatric care, mean “physicians are learning new ways to work with patients and caregivers in the office setting,” says said Peter DeGolia, M.D., Professor of Family Medicine at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, OH. “There are changes occurring on the provider side; many for the better.”

Having an NP or PA in the practice can foster better communication and help make sure little things don’t fall through the cracks because the physician is rushed.

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Liz Seegert

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