Effect of substituting nurses for doctors in primary care

Melissa T. Martelly, Allison Squires

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. To investigate the clinical effectiveness and costs of nurses working as substitutes for physicians in primary care. Design. Systematic review and meta-analysis of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 2 economic studies that compared nurse-led care with care by primary care physicians on numerous variables, including satisfaction, hospital admission, mortality, and costs of health care. Settings and participants. The 24 RCTs were drawn from 5 different countries (UK, Netherlands, USA, Russia, and South Africa). In total, there were 38, 974 participants. Eleven of the studies had less than 200 participants and 13 studies had more than 200 (median, 1624). Mean age was reported in 20 trials and ranged from 10 to 83 years. Analysis. The authors assessed risk of bias in the studies, calculated the study-specific and pooled relative risks (RR) or standardized mean differences (SMD), and performed fixed-effects meta-analyses. Main results. Nurse-led care was effective at reducing the overall risk of hospital admission (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.64-0.91) and mortality (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.84-0.96) in RCTs of ongoing or non-urgent care, longer (at least 12 months) follow-up episodes, and in in larger (n > 200) RCTs. Pooled analysis showed higher overall scores of patient satisfaction with nurse led care (SMD 0.18, 95% Cl 0.13-0.23). Higher-quality RCTs (with better allocation concealment and less attrition) showed higher rates of hospital admissions and mortality with nurse-led care, but the difference was not significant. Subgroup analysis showed that RNs had a stronger effect than nurse practitioners (NPs) on patient satisfaction. The results of cost-effectiveness and improved quality of care analysis with nurses were inconclusive. Conclusion. Nurse-led care appears to have a positive effect on patient care and outcomes but more rigorous research is needed to confirm these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-399
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of Clinical Outcomes Management
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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