May 21, 2024

The new funding model grants nurse practitioners the autonomy to work independently, including in new or existing primary care clinics

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Alberta is set to announce Thursday a new funding model for nurse practitioners that will grant them the autonomy to work independently, including in new or existing primary care clinics.

The government’s $15-million nurse practitioner primary care program is intended to help fill in gaps around primary care, particularly for the more than 700,000 Albertans who don’t have a primary health care provider.

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“This allows more primary care providers to provide service to Albertans and ultimately that’s what we want. We want everyone to be attached to primary care providers,” Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said in an interview.

She said Albertans would not have to pay fees to receive care from a nurse practitioner.

“The way that we’re funding it they will not have to pay out of pocket.”

The program allows nurse practitioners to practise comprehensive patient care autonomously and operate their own clinic or practise autonomously in existing primary care clinics.

To be compensated through the program, nurse practitioners must be committed to providing medically-necessary primary care services as well as other requirements. They are also required to be caring for at least 900 patients, and provide after-hours care on weekends, evenings or holidays while also accepting walk-in patients as they build towards that number.

Another part of the program provides funding and incentives to practise in rural communities, where LaGrange said the primary care shortfalls are most pronounced.

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“This really is about attachment for Albertans to make sure that they have access to nurse practitioners, but also to make sure that we have nurse practitioners that are able to provide service (at times) when there are gaps.”

Under the program, nurse practitioners will be paid about 80 per cent of the compensation provided to family physicians, though that may vary based on how many patients they are responsible for and the number of patient care hours provided.

Nurse practitioners interested in practising under the new program can, as of Thursday, submit an expression of interest as the first step to being funded.

LaGrange said, notwithstanding the application process, she expects the first clinics to open up “within the next few months.”

“I have heard from nurse practitioners who are waiting for this announcement to come forward that they would be eager to put their names forward and start the process.”

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Last December, Premier Danielle Smith said that all Albertans will have a primary care provider by the next provincial election which is scheduled to be held on or before May 31, 2027.

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has criticized the government’s plan to use nurse practitioners to improve primary care coverage, saying the effort and money would be better spent on supporting family-medicine specialists.

“Putting it bluntly, nurse practitioners cannot replace family medical specialists,” AMA president Paul Parks told Postmedia last November.

The government’s deal with nurse practitioners comes after the compensation model was first announced in November, and after the premier’s aspiration of having some of those clinics opened by last January.

Alberta Health Services describes nurse practitioners as registered nurses with graduate degrees as well as advanced knowledge and skills who are trained to assess, diagnose, treat, prescribe, refer, and order tests.

The government estimates there are currently more than 900 nurse practitioners in the province.

The Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta has said its members can offer about 80 per cent of the medical services provided by family doctors.

Smith and LaGrange are expected to hold a news conference on Thursday.

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