After years in a corporate setting, Sharma Atkinson-Staten opened her own primary care practice in Lake City on March 1.
SharmaCare off of SW Main Boulevard follows the direct primary care model, the first in the city and Atkinson-Staten, a nurse practitioner, will have full control over her patient load and time.
In an interview before the opening, Atkinson-Staten said many people ask what doctor she will work with, but she doesn’t need a doctor to open up the practice.
“You have to explain that, and I’ve had real positive feedback,” Atkinson-Staten said.
States differ on the scope of practice allowed to nurse practitioners (NPs). The Florida Senate voted to allow NPs to establish their own practices in March 2020 when it passed HB 607.
“It’s really opened the door for primary care nurse practitioners to expand access to healthcare for a lot of people….” Atkinson-Staten said.
Some states allow full practice for NPs while others restrict some aspects. For Atkinson-Staten, running her own practice likely kept her in a healthcare career.
The main difference will be a switch in mindset from a standard primary care model to a direct primary care practice.
“I just got so burned out on insurance companies, dealing with them, hassling with them, waiting for them,” Atkinson-Staten said.
At her practice, patients opt into a monthly rate that gives access to all the services Atkinson-Staten provides—no insurance card required. She can also provide reduced costs for lab work and generic medications.
Atkinson-Staten said the model has grown since she’s practiced in Lake City. She said a direct primary care practice started in Lake Butler around two years ago and has already added a doctor and is looking to set up a new location.
“The number of direct primary care practices continues to climb, and I think it’s because people are tired of waiting days or months to get in with their doctor,” Atkinson-Staten said.
According to Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruiting firm, the wait time for a new patient appointment rose 30 percent from 2014 to 2017 in America’s 15 largest metropolitan areas for an average wait of 24 days. In mid-sized metropolitan areas, the wait takes a bit longer—32 days on average.
Direct primary care allows faster access to a patient’s healthcare provider because each provider oversees a smaller pool of patients.
Atkinson-Staten said this is better for both the patient and provider.
At her previous job, she said it resembled a revolving door with patients coming in and out constantly with emphasis placed on the number of patients a worker sees.
Atkinson-Staten said that’s not good healthcare, and she didn’t feel comfortable with it. The more time patients spend with a nurse practitioner or doctor, the more they feel comfortable and open up about issues.
Dr. Shenary Cotter, a direct primary care physician at Gainesville Direct Primary Care Physicians, also noted the importance of time with patients.
“Direct primary care is probably the answer to keeping me practicing,” Atkinson-Staten said.
Atkinson-Staten said her practice will probably serve up to 600 patients, but she said it depends on how much attention each patient needs. Over time, she’ll know if she can add more patients or need to keep the current level.