The first nurse practitioner program owes much to Henry K. Silver, MD, a pediatrician, an endocrinologist, and a pioneer who was influential in the development of innovative educational programs for advanced pediatric health care providers. Dr. Silver, then a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, with Loretta Ford, EdD, a pediatric nurse and professor at the same university’s School of Nursing, developed that program in 1967 (). They were responding to a serious shortage of pediatric providers, especially in rural and low socioeconomic areas. Pediatric nurses learned about primary care, office-based practice that included evaluating children with hearing and speech deficits, nutritional needs, vision impairment, and other congenital and acute problems. They made home visits and participated in follow-up of children with medical, surgical, and mental health concerns.
Now, more than 50 years later, an era when health care for children is at the forefront of policy and financial concerns, children are surviving longer with chronic and complex illness, and receive sophisticated therapies for medical and surgical problems. The definition of family is very different from that used in the 1960s, and challenges in health care provision begin with identification of basic needs such as food and shelter. In light of the risks for children today, there are many more opportunities for pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) to collaborate, especially in planning complex care strategies.
One example for collaboration is within the pediatric health care/medical home model (PHC/MHM). Practices, whether primary or subspecialty, can benefit patients and their families by providing a coordinated model of comprehensive care, especially for children who are at greatest identified risk. In addition, the PHC/MHM practice can receive insurance reimbursement benefits, and demonstrate a decrease in hospitalization rates, improved health care quality, and increased patient satisfaction ( ).
The American Academy of Pediatrics defines the medical home as “a model of delivering primary care that is accessible, continuous, family centered, coordinated, compassionate, and culturally effective to every child and adolescent” ( . The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) describes the pediatric health care/medical home as a “model of care that promotes holistic care of children and their families where each patient/family has an ongoing relationship with a health care professional” ( ). This is an approach to providing comprehensive pediatric care that facilitates partnerships between patients, providers, and families, which is not contained within the walls of the office or building.
By virtue of their designation and training, nurses provide care for the patient in a holistic fashion, including physical care, therapeutic treatments, education, and coordination of services. Primary care nurse practitioners are trained in health promotion and prevention. They receive advanced level education in pharmacology, pathophysiology, and physical assessment, diagnosis, and management. The combination of skills between the PNP and the pediatrician are complementary and, as history suggests, can result in improved patient care. In 1967, Dr. Silver and Ms. Ford reported: “It is becoming increasingly clear that competent professional nurses working cooperatively with physicians can make greater contributions to patient care.” The PHC/MHM is an excellent opportunity for collaboration between pediatricians and NPs.
Examples of collaboration in the PHC/MHM
Building the PHC/MHM requires an evidence base, with data obtained from EHRs and current research, but also founded on individual practice culture, type of practice, and patients served. Physician and NP collaboration in collecting, reviewing, and applying this evidence can result in the development of unique guidelines for that specific practice. Patients who are considered at risk for frequent illness and hospitalizations, or who have multisystem problems, including mental health or social issues, are primary candidates who can benefit from the medical home model. The NP, by virtue of leadership training, can assist in coordinating care teams, procedures, and office staff.
Cheryl Samuels, PNP, works at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, McGovern Medical School in the UT Physicians High Risk Clinic, along with two other PNPs and two pediatricians. Their collaboration has resulted in the development of a certified health care home for children with complex illness. This practice has continued to collect data and publish research to document the effectiveness of their program. One recent study was a randomized controlled trial demonstrating cost efficiency and decreased serious illness when children with complex needs are cared for in a medical home (). Ms. Samuels and her colleagues published, “Case for the use of a nurse practitioner in the care of children with medical complexity,” in which they described the role of the NP and benefits in utilizing these skills in the multifaceted care of children with chronic and complex illness ( ).