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More and more older adults desire to and are enabled to grow old in their own home, regardless of their physical and mental capabilities. This change, together with the growing number of older adults, increases the demand for general practitioners (GPs). However, care for older people lacks prestige among medical students and few medical students are interested in a career in care for older people. Innovative solutions are needed to reduce the demand for GPs, to guarantee quality of healthcare and to contain costs. A solution might be found in skill mix change by introducing nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs) or registered nurses (RNs). The aim of this study was to describe how skill mix change is organised in daily practice, what influences it and what the effects are of introducing NPs, PAs or RNs into primary healthcare for older people.
In total, 34 care providers working in primary healthcare in the Netherlands were interviewed: GPs (n = 9), NPs (n = 10), PAs (n = 5) and RNs (n = 10). Five focus groups and 14 individual interviews were conducted. Analysis consisted of open coding, creating categories and abstraction.
In most cases, healthcare for older people was only a small part of the tasks of NPs, PAs and RNs; they did not solely focus on older people. The tasks they performed and their responsibilities in healthcare for older people differed between, as well as within, professions. Although the interviewees debated the usefulness of proactive structural screening on frailty in the older population, when implemented, it was also unclear who should perform the geriatric assessment. Interviewees considered NPs, PAs and RNs an added value, and it was stated that the role of the GP changed with the introduction of NPs, PAs or RNs.
The roles and responsibilities of NPs, PAs and RNs for the care of older people living at home are still not established. Nonetheless, these examples show the potential of these professionals. The establishment of a clear vision on primary healthcare for older people, including the organisation of proactive healthcare, is necessary to optimise the impact of skill mix change.