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Nurses care just as good as doctors, study says

The next time you have the flu or back pain, would you consider going to a nurse rather than a doctor? How about for chest pains?

More and more people are deciding they prefer nurse practitioners to doctors and new research concludes that a nurse's care is just as good and sometimes better.

Some nurses think they have it all, over doctors, "Our approach is that our patient is the head of our health care team and we listen to them." Bob Smithing is a nurse practitioner at Family Care of Kent. The clinic has operated for more than 25 years and has no doctors.

"Most of what we take care of is the primary care types of things such as diabetes, hypertension, birth control, shortness of breath." Smithing said these are all conditions doctors normally treat.

The results of a study done by Johns Hopkins University finds that care given by nurses with advanced training, such as Smithing, is comparable in quality, safety and effectiveness to the care of doctors.

"This survey reinforces what we've seen coming out for the past 50 years, which is the care that is provided by nurse practitioners is excellent care and that our patients benefit from seeing a nurse practitioner," said Smithing. But he doesn't use the findings to denigrate doctors.

"Physicians are an integral part of a health care team," Smithing said. "I could no more take care of my patients without specialty physicians than I could take care of them without my stethascope."

You might say to yourself, 'It's risky to see a nurse specialist rather than a doctor because the nurse might miss something.'

But Smithing said not to worry. "We're not reluctant to call in help and ask for assistance. Our training emphasizes that if you don't know something - ask, rather than you must know everything," he reassured.

The Johns Hopkins study finds that nurse specialists have also lowered medical costs and reduced unnecessary hospital stays.

Doctor Aaron Katz, at the UW's Department of Health Services, said specialty nurses are a mainstay of health care. However it doesn't mean you can see a nurse specialist for every problem. "Rather that there are a group of patients with certain types of medical problems that care can be just as good."

The Affordable Care Act will require health coverage for millions more Americans.

"There's a lot of concern that all of those newly insured people are going to seek medical services now that they have insurance and that we don't have enough capacity in the health care system to serve them," said Katz.

Smithing agrees with researchers who suggest that demand should increase for nurse practitioners. "We're going to need a lot more primary care providers. Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives can fill that bill."

It can be less expensive to see a nurse practitioner, but not always. Smithing said with any health care provider, trust can be as important as any other factor is your choice of a caregiver.

It's sometimes said that nurses are doctor wannabes, but Smithing said nurses want to be nurses but they also want the right to practice to the full extent of their training.

About the Author

Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.

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