Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Medical teamwork - it works

In the old days, when you were sick or needed a check-up, you went to the doctor's office and you saw a doctor. Today, though, when you go to the doctor's, you may see a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. They are specially trained health care providers who are tested and licensed. Often they work under the supervision of an M.D., but sometimes they are independent. And, although they are not physicians, in many states they can order tests, perform some procedures, and write prescriptions.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have surely helped to ease the shortage of doctors, particularly in underserved communities. Even in academic medical centers, they speed access to health care. Still, discriminating patients want to know if they provide top-notch care. Health care planners want to know that, too, and two rather different studies have helped answer that important question.

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