The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly shifted the healthcare industry across the United States. Affected hospital ERs and ICUs are slammed with patients, forcing clinicians from across disciplines into ER rotations and other nontraditional roles. At the same time, almost all outpatient services ground to a halt starting in March 2020, and primary care practices worked to achieve a “new normal,” including altering how clinicians see patients and contain the spread of the virus.

As healthcare workers across the board were commandeered to help during pandemic surges, nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) were among those who stepped up — and stepped in to take over more and more everyday patient care.

The Emerging Healthcare Professionals

According to the latest figures from AANP and AAPA, there are about 290,000 NPs and 140,000 PAs practicing in the United States. Last year, NPs wrote approximately 673.5 million retail prescriptions; PAs wrote 333.76 million prescriptions.

The American Academy of PAs and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners estimated that these providers handled 1.5 billion patient visits in 2019. That number has likely grown in 2020 due to regulatory changes in the scope of practice for both professions. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relaxed the scope of practice for NPs to make it easier for them to independently evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients during the pandemic. At least 22 states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

Due to COVID-19, practice rules for PAs have likewise been adjusted in recent months with governors in Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, South Dakota, Virginia, and Tennessee signing waivers that allow PAs to practice independently.

The regulatory changes have allowed these critical healthcare professionals to step in and help out more independently in hospital and nonhospital settings. It’s also allowed NPs and PAs to take advantage of telemedicine opportunities to conduct patient visits and get primary care back on track — albeit largely virtually. In a recent survey, 66 percent of PAs said they used telemedicine in their practice, which is an increase from the 10 percent reported in February 2020.

NPs and PAs are the compassionate heart and soul of healthcare. They are also essential professionals on the front-lines of healthcare who take the time to listen to their patients, learn about their lives, and understand the nuances of their health. Survey data reinforces that not only are they are deeply committed to their patients, but they are also committed to continuous learning to stay up to date on the latest developments in medicine as they treat patients for everything from routine illnesses to chronic diseases.

Here’s How to Reach This Critical Audience

In a survey commissioned by POCN, over 40 percent of NPs and PAs said that they want more conference-style medical education via webcast. They also indicated a preference for e-mail engagement from medical device and other life sciences companies. NPs and PAs said that they have started to explore non-traditional learning settings, including specialized Facebook groups, podcasts, text messages with links to articles, and other medical information, and dedicated Web sites with information and quizzes. In addition, 71 percent said that they were open to virtual sales calls.

The data highlights not only opportunities to provide specifically designed medical education to NPs and PAs, but also an opportunity to help them educate their patients.

Your Best Ambassadors

“I use more patient education materials.” That’s how one survey respondent answered the question, “If telemedicine has had an impact, tell us how it has affected your treatment decisions.”

Telemedicine has in many ways magnified the importance of patient-clinician relationships as diagnoses go remote and the routines of taking vital signs are replaced with conversations designed to tease out the nuances of a patient’s health. In PA school, in particular, they’re trained to take a step back from the patient they are medically treating and form a holistic view of the entire family or support system to determine whether there are outside factors affecting their health. PAs are trained to understand how to listen to the patient without solely relying on vitals and data to make a diagnosis. Due to COVID-19, PAs are spending more time educating their patients about diseases and prescriptions — which is why they’re using more patient education materials.

In addition, with 82 percent of respondents in primary care and family practice, many of these NPs and PAs are the ones sitting down with patients with chronic conditions to help them understand how to monitor everything from blood pressure to blood sugar. They’re also the healthcare professionals teaching patients how to use nebulizers to treat COPD, COVID-19, and other respiratory diseases.

Medical device companies can help NPs and PAs by providing both medical education and patient education materials to help them better help their patients. NPs are advanced practice, licensed, and independent nurses who perform the same tasks involved in examining, diagnosing, and treating patients as physicians. Many lead care coordination teams and see both new and existing and follow-up patients in all settings without a physician present.

Both NPs and PAs are vital healthcare personnel whose combined numbers exceed the number of primary care physicians in the United States. As we continue to see an increased demand for healthcare, it will be important for medical device and other life sciences companies to support them in learning as they continue to provide critical, compassionate care.

This article was written by Sacha Ward, Chief Client Officer at POCN. For more information, visit here .