Scope of Practice Laws and Their Impact on Care: A Comprehensive Overview

January 26, 2023 - 9:14 am - 4 min read
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Introduction

The healthcare industry is one of the largest and most important industries in the world that concerns human health. For this reason, healthcare laws and regulations are among the most critical and complex issues for healthcare providers, patients, and governments worldwide. One of the major challenges in healthcare laws is the scope of practice laws that regulate health professions’ duties and responsibilities. The scope of practice is defined as “the range of duties and responsibilities that a licensed healthcare professional is allowed to perform within each profession’s legal limitations.” The purpose of this article is to examine how scope of practice laws impact care.

The Importance of Scope of Practice Laws

Scope of practice laws are aimed at ensuring healthcare providers operate within their authorized competence and execute procedures within their expertise level. The scope of practice sets the standards and guidelines for licensed healthcare professionals regarding the treatments they can provide, qualifications, training requirements, and more. These laws aim to provide safe, high-quality care that meets the patient’s needs while minimizing healthcare costs. The scope of practice laws are jurisdiction-specific, meaning they vary from state to state or country to country.

Scope of Practice Laws Categories and Their Impacts

There are two categories of scope of practice laws that regulate healthcare professionals’ range of duties: “expanded” scope of practice laws and “limited” scope of practice laws.

Expanded scope of practice laws grant healthcare professionals a broad range of services they are authorized to execute, which can positively impact healthcare services. For illustration, nurse practitioners have expanded scope of practice laws that authorize them to diagnose and prescribe medication to patients under their treatment. Such a change has contributed to increased access to primary health care, decrease healthcare costs, and less load put on physicians.

Limited scope of practice laws, on the other hand, describes the restrictions and the narrow range of duties that a licensed healthcare professional can perform and defines the level of supervision that they require. For example, dental hygienists are legally limited to teeth cleaning and cannot perform other dental procedures unless under the supervision of a dentist. Limited scope of practice laws, in such instances, negatively impact healthcare services, since it limits the healthcare access of the public.

Effects of Scope of Practice on Health Care Workforce

The scope of practice laws’ effects on healthcare providers paint an impact on healthcare service quality and access to healthcare provision. A significant benefit of expanded scope of practice laws is that it allows healthcare professions autonomy, which leads to increased job satisfaction among healthcare workers. Without the added responsibility of requiring physician supervision for performing basic primary care roles, nurse practitioners can devote their time to providing essential healthcare roles, which can positively impact patients’ health outcomes.

Limited scope of practice can have a negative impact on the available healthcare workforce. When healthcare providers’ scope of practice restrictions are strict, it can lead to shortages of healthcare providers in essential care areas, such as rural areas and primary care. When the scope of practice for medical practitioners is limited, this adds significant pressure on the remaining healthcare providers and leads to increased workload, which can have negative mental health impacts on them.

Economic Impact of Scope of Practice Laws

Healthcare services are one of the most expensive services in the world in most jurisdictions. The total health care expenditure is often influenced by multiple healthcare factors, of which scope of practice laws are one. When healthcare professions have expanded scope of practice laws, healthcare costs are often lower, and patient outcomes are improved. For example, evidence suggests that increasing the role of nurse practitioners in primary care can decrease the overall healthcare costs and lead to improved quality outcomes. Additionally, expanded scope of practice laws have a positive impact on healthcare access, leading to healthier outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, scope of practice laws impact healthcare providers, patient outcomes, and healthcare costs. It is vital that healthcare providers and policymakers alike work to keep up with the changing scope of practice laws globally. When implementing expanded scope of practice laws, it is important to ensure that healthcare professionals have the requisite training and qualifications necessary to deliver high-quality care. To ensure reduced healthcare costs, increased access, and improved patient outcomes, it is essential to provide healthcare professionals with the autonomy needed to thrive without compromising on patient safety and quality of care.

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