If there is one health care issue we can all agree on, it’s that Louisiana’s residents deserve better access to high-quality health care services.

Senate Bill 187 would grant Louisiana’s nurse practitioners full practice authority, enabling nurse practitioners like myself to provide health care to patients autonomous of a physician. Without this authority, Louisiana citizens will continue to face challenges gaining access to timely, cost-effective health care.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that patients in Southern states, including Louisiana, have less access to health care providers, more insurance coverage issues and a higher incidence of lifestyle-related health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Forty percent of states have modernized their state laws to establish full practice authority, in order to improve access — especially in underserved urban and rural areas — streamline care, decrease costs and protect patient choice.

In the five years since Arizona enacted full practice authority, the number of nurse practitioners in Arizona increased by 52 percent, and significantly, the number in rural counties increased by 73 percent and 48 percent in urban counties.

Nurse practitioners have been at the forefront of providing primary health care to patients for over half a century. With six-plus years of academic and clinical preparation, we assess patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, and initiate and manage treatment plans — including prescribing medications. Organizations from the Institute of Medicine to the National Governors Association and Federal Trade Commission also recognize that nurse practitioners can improve health care delivery.

Louisiana’s outdated regulations limit patient access to care by requiring nurse practitioners to obtain a “permission slip” from a physician as a condition of practicing advanced practice nursing. The requirement bottlenecks Louisiana’s health care and prevents patients and the state from capitalizing on the full benefit of nurse practitioners services. The physician lobby has offered up a permission slip under a new name, “team-based care,” that has nothing to do with care coordination and everything to do with restricting nurse practitioners from practicing autonomously.

Decades of research have shown that nurse practitioners have an outstanding track record of safe and high-quality patient interactions and outcomes. It’s time for Louisiana lawmakers to give nurse practitioners the autonomy to take charge of patient health and patients the ability to access the care they need.

Sophia L. Thomas

Region 6 director, American Association of Nurse Practitioners

New Orleans