A study funded by the Ministry of Health outlines the benefits of having nurse practitioners in hospitals and long-term care homes.

University of Western Ontario professor and researcher Tina Hurlock-Chorostecki said nurse practitioners are often the one constant for a patient in hospital. They can act as liaisons with other health professionals to ease a patient's stay, and possibly shorten it.

She noted her study indicates Ontario gets good value from hiring nurse practitioners.

“There's always thoughts of cuts and, when you have someone with a salary that's a little bit higher than someone else's, you always get a little red circle around them and do we need this role or do we not,” Hurlock-Chorostecki said.

“So it's important for people to understand the benefits of the role.”

In long-term care homes, nurse practitioners can treat ailments such as pneumonia and prevent trips to hospital. Hurlock-Chorostecki said it's important that CEOs of hospitals and long-term care homes let nurse practitioners do their jobs without limits. But sometimes their roles are hindered when the nurse practitioner can't prescribe medication, unless first approved by a doctor.

“So the hospital can make its own rules on top of the legislation and, if they limit that, then the nurse practitioner role can't work as effectively,” she said.        

The Ontario Hospital Association reports the number of nurse practitioners hired by hospitals has gone up. Statistics show there are about 680 nurse practitioners at Ontario hospitals in 2013, up from about 580 in 2011.

The Ministry of Health says it gave $1.25 million over three years for this study. The study was conducted in acute-care settings, the hospital and long-term care facilities.

A total of 149 nurse practitioners and more than 50 healthcare practitioners from 10 different professions were surveyed in northern and southwestern Ontario.

Several researchers were involved in the project, including Hurlock-Chorostecki, who is also a nurse practitioner.