A study of Medicare providers found that advanced-practice clinicians (APCs) are an increasingly large part of the dermatology workforce, and that they are delivering ever-more care in both urban and rural areas.
Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, reported in JAMA Dermatology that in 2013 APCs made up 28% of the dermatology clinician workforce. By 2020, they made up 37% of the dermatology clinicians giving care to Medicare beneficiaries.
Retrospective cohort study
APCs provided care in 15.5% of dermatology office visits in 2013 and 27.4% in 2020 (P =.02), the authors reported. “By 2020, more than one in four dermatology visits for patients with Medicare were delivered by APCs,” wrote the authors, led by Mackenzie R. Wehner, MD, MPhil, assistant professor of dermatology and health services research at MD Anderson.
“Everyone in dermatology is aware of the increasing adoption of advanced practice clinicians in the field,” Justin D. Arnold, MD, MMSc, a 3rd-year dermatology resident at the University of California, Irvine, said in an interview. “However, seeing how quickly this happening and the absolute number of these clinicians is still startling,” said Dr. Arnold, who in 2022 published a research letter in JAMA Dermatology on the impact of physician assistants in dermatology.
In that study, he and his coauthors reported that the PA workforce in dermatology was growing faster than in other specialties.
In the current study, Dr. Wehner and her colleagues identified 8,444 dermatology APCs and 14,402 physician dermatologists who provided 109.3 million Medicare office visits from 2013 to 2020. More than 80% of the procedures were performed by physicians, but APCs appeared to increasingly be taking on more of the procedural load.
Over the study period, APCs had an average annual increase of 12.6% in the number of premalignant lesion destructions performed; physicians saw an average 1.4% decline. For skin biopsies, APCs performed 11.7% more per year on average, compared with a 1.4% drop for physicians.
“This data is not surprising given most agree that skin biopsies and destruction of premalignant lesions are well within the scope of practice of APCs,” Dr. Arnold told this news organization.
The authors also reported that, while most APCs – similar to physician dermatologists – practice in metropolitan areas, they are working in other locations also. Slightly more than half of dermatology clinicians in micropolitan areas are APCs, and in rural areas, 88% of clinicians are APCs, Dr. Wehner and colleagues found.
APCs may be filling a gap in rural areas for Medicare patients, said Dr. Arnold, but, he added, “it is unclear if dermatology APCs are growing as quickly in practices that predominantly accept Medicaid and if dermatology APCs are expanding access to these populations.”
Dr. Arnold said he expected the number of APCs in dermatology to continue growing, serving commercially insured patients, as well. “There are a multitude of potential reasons for more APCs in dermatology, including difficulty recruiting dermatologists in rural communities, financial motivators, and the expansion of private equity, and the increasing acceptance of these clinicians within medicine and by patients.”
APCs can provide good-quality care if they are properly trained and supervised, said Dr. Arnold, adding that he is concerned, however, that the training and supervision is not being provided. “This study provides further evidence that dermatologists, and national dermatology organizations such as the AAD [American Academy of Dermatology], need to take a more active role in the leadership of APC training,” he said.
Dermatology, he noted, “would benefit from consensus guidelines on clinical competencies for dermatology APCs,” similar to an effort by the American College of Cardiology.
Another study published online as a pre-proof in July reported that, compared with dermatologists, nonphysician providers – including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and aestheticians – have a higher rate of adverse events when performing aesthetic procedures.
The authors of that study – led by Shelby L. Kubicki, MD, of the department of dermatology at the UTHealth Science Center in Houston – note that there is no specialty-specific certification exam required for PAs or NPs to practice in dermatology, and that autonomy and practice regulations are set by states.
There is no mandatory reporting of complications for nonphysician providers, so the authors relied on data from cosmetic-focused practices, medical spas, and a survey by the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery of consumers and its members. More than half of the responding physicians “reported treating complications of a cosmetic procedure performed by an NPO [nonphysician operator],” the authors wrote.
They also found higher rates of burns and discoloration among patients who were treated by NPOs. The injuries occurred primarily at medical spas.
“Although NPOs may help to meet the rising demand for dermatologic procedures, care should still be taken to prioritize patient safety and outcomes above all else, including financial profits and revenues,” the authors wrote.
Dr. Wehner and her colleagues report no relevant financial relationships. Their study research was supported, in part, by a Cancer Center Support Grant and by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Dr. Arnold also reports no relevant financial relationships. No author disclosures or funding information were available for the Clinics in Dermatology paper.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.