A nurse tends to recovering patients in a general ward.
A nurse tends to recovering patients in a general ward. - 
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Bill Radke: Four thousand nurse pactitioners are descending on Phoenix today for their annual conference. And there, the mood is good. After decades of fighting for recognition, all the national focus on primary care and cutting costs could be just what the nurse practitioner ordered. From our health desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Gregory Warner has more.

Gregory Warner: Nurse practitioners are nurses with a masters degree. They can diagnose disease, prescribe medication and interpret lab tests like a primary care doctor. But most states still require a medical doctor to sign off as collaborator.

Jan Towers: We have nurse practitioners in rural areas that can't find a collaborator.

Jan Towers is director of health policy for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. She's fighting state laws to make it easier for them to practice. On the federal level, health care reform law does recognize nurse practitioners and creates lots of new primary care positions for them to fill. Nurse practitioners charge less than doctors and they can spend more time with patients. Patricia Stone is with Columbia University's School of Nursing:

Patricia Stone: Talking to the patient, listening to their problems, that takes time. But when you do that, you can encourage the person to make changes.

Changes she says that keep people out of the hospital and off of medication. And that saves money.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

Follow Gregory Warner at @radiogrego