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August 13, 2021 Feature

An Instructive Analogy: My Experience with a Nurse Practitioner

Judy Perry Martinez
Giving consumers access, opportunity, and choice applies to medical as well as legal services.

Giving consumers access, opportunity, and choice applies to medical as well as legal services.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to rethink conventional wisdom in a variety of areas, legal and otherwise. For me, one occasion arose last October when I decided to schedule my annual women’s health checkup. Because many other women had delayed and then scrambled to get appointments, the “next available” from my gynecologist was not until January 2021. So, I did the unthinkable for someone who had just transitioned to a new specialist three years ago after being with one doctor for close to four decades and through four challenging pregnancies: I decided to try yet another new doctor when seeking an appointment. I went on the local major health care institution’s website, selected a name and photo, and spoke with an operator to set the time and place of my next appointment—not in January 2021 but in the very same month that I called. I was delighted that I was able to get in so promptly for my checkup. What I did not know—and was not told until I arrived at the office on the day of my appointment and did not see the name of my “doctor” on the door—was that I was scheduled to see a nurse practitioner. Although I expressed to the receptionist my appreciation for her ensuring that I was aware of the practitioner’s professional status and my disappointment that I had not been informed of this status when I scheduled my appointment by phone, once again, I did the unthinkable for me: I decided to go forward that day with the appointment.

As someone who in earlier childbirth years had been at significant risk during pregnancies, had months of bed rest, and even relied during pregnancy on non-FDA-approved drugs for pregnancy that my physician utilized as part of a trial to ensure a safe and timely delivery, the idea of turning to someone other than a licensed physician and board-certified specialist for even routine well care was at the moment a daunting choice. Following my first delivery more than 30 years ago, my confidence in my doctor had been remarkably high, and my trust and confidence only strengthened and our patient-physician bond only grew over the course of a lifetime. So the decision now to step out of that comfort zone was a big one. I weighed the risk of being examined and assessed by someone who was certified to deliver the needed services and licensed as a nurse practitioner versus waiting another season to be seen by my current licensed physician. The risk was mitigated by the fact that the nurse practitioner was in the office of an experienced physician specialist group—although I never laid eyes on nor exchanged a word with a doctor during my visit.

My individual perspective following my appointment with the nurse practitioner was that the care was of the highest quality—not only was an apparently thorough examination undertaken, but the thoughtful approach to the exchange of health information, personal lifestyle inquiries, and challenges presented by the pandemic was not merely professional but appropriately patient and empathetic. My decision to allow a nurse practitioner to be my health care provider for what was a routine annual examination was now bolstered by a positive experience that gave me access to needed services much earlier than I would have received had I waited for my chosen physician to be available to see me. This resulted in several months’ peace of mind I would not otherwise have enjoyed.

What I also know post-appointment is that any future decision to continue using nurse practitioners will be backed by data. Outcomes on clinical success and patient safety are important to understand. Not only should anonymized data regarding patient health and safety of at-large populations examined by nurse practitioners be considered, but so should the experience set and any specialized medical training, ethics, and practice methods and standards of the particular professional you have the opportunity to see.

But, then, that is really what this is about, isn’t it: having access, opportunity, and choice to get the care and services that you desire, can afford, and can timely secure from a regulated, ethical, and licensed professional and making your decision based on sound, reliable data from trusted sources on which you can rely. That, combined with personal experience and individual perspective, come together in a powerful combination of consumer choice.

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Judy Perry Martinez is Immediate Past President of the American Bar Association and was chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Judy is Of Counsel with Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, LLP in New Orleans.