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Open Access Research article

Medical care of asylum seekers: a descriptive study of the appropriateness of nurse practitioners' care compared to traditional physician-based care in a gatekeeping system

Patrick Bodenmann1*, Fabrice Althaus1, Bernard Burnand2, Paul Vaucher1, Alain Pécoud1 and Blaise Genton1

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Outpatient Clinic, Department of Ambulatory Care and Community Medicine, University of Lausanne, Rue du Bugnon 44, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Lausanne, Rue du Bugnon 17, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:310  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-310

Published: 31 October 2007

Abstract

Background

Medical care for asylum seekers is a complex and critical issue worldwide. It is influenced by social, political, and economic pressures, as well as premigration conditions, the process of migration, and postmigration conditions in the host country. Increasing needs and healthcare costs have led public health authorities to put nurse practitioners in charge of the management of a gatekeeping system for asylum seekers. The quality of this system has never been evaluated. We assessed the competencies of nurses and physicians in identifying the medical needs of asylum seekers and providing them with appropriate treatment that reflects good clinical practice.

Methods

This cross-sectional descriptive study evaluated the appropriateness of care provided to asylum seekers by trained nurse practitioners in nursing healthcare centers and by physicians in private practices, an academic medical outpatient clinic, and the emergency unit of the university hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland. From 1687 asylum seeking patients who had consulted each setting between June and December 2003, 450 were randomly selected to participate. A panel of experts reviewed their medical records and assessed the appropriateness of medical care received according to three parameters: 1) use of appropriate procedures to identify medical needs (medical history, clinical examination, complementary investigations, and referral), 2) provision of access to treatment meeting medical needs, and 3) absence of unnecessary medical procedures.

Results

In the nurse practitioner group, the procedures used to identify medical needs were less often appropriate (79% of reports vs. 92.4% of reports; p < 0.001). Nevertheless, access to treatment was judged satisfactory and was similar (p = 0.264) between nurse practitioners and physicians (99% and 97.6% of patients, respectively, received adequate care). Excessive care was observed in only 2 physician reports (0.8%) and 3 nurse reports (1.5%) (p = 0.481).

Conclusion

Although the nursing gatekeeping system provides appropriate treatment to asylum seekers, it might be improved with further training in recording medical history and performing targeted clinical examination.