It is time for truth.
Increasing access to healthcare in rural areas of North Carolina has been and remains a top priority for numerous stakeholders in the Tar Heel State. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic distress it put on rural areas is leading to countless policy discussions and debates.
Since my early days growing up in Eastern North Carolina, increasing access to healthcare has, and remains, a vital issue worthy of the attention it is now getting. It is also important to make sure that the actions taken to achieve this necessary objective are supported by excellent, un-biased data. This is a time for the plain truth and nothing but the truth.
Rural areas of the state have a hard time recruiting and retaining physicians, PAs, nurses, and administrators. That is truth based on empirical data. The SAVE Act as currently written would allow nurses to practice without physician supervision. Evidence, however, does not support that a change in how nurses practice will increase access to care in rural communities. That is the truth.
A look at the 38 states that passed legislation to expand the scope of practice for nurses shows no positive correlation to an increase in access. Research shows that infrastructure and higher pay makes practicing in rural areas more attractive. Independent practice does not. That is the truth.
The North Carolina Medical Society understands that incentives are essential to attract new physicians to rural communities. For more than three decades we have been putting physicians, PAs and nurses in underserved communities across the state through our signature Community Practitioners Program. That is the truth.
Rural areas are generally populated by older and sicker people, fewer people have health insurance, and the economies are not as robust when compared to urban areas. Physicians in those areas are often one of a very few. They choose to serve those areas because of their commitment to the community. It is infrastructure that is needed rather than the independence sought in the SAVE Act. That is the truth.
If we are truly going to transform health care for everyone in NC, we must hit the right targets. Team based care (physicians, PAs and nurses working together), proven incentives that bring and keep physicians and health care workers in the area, and promoting the countless assets rural areas offer will yield far greater results than the current policy promoted in the SAVE Act .
That is the truth.
Chip Baggett is CEO of the North Carolina Medical Society.