On March 11, 2020, only hours after it was passed by the Florida Legislature, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 607 into law. Importantly, this new law allows “advanced practice registered nurses” to be licensed for autonomous practice. Once this law takes effect on July 1, 2020, qualified nurse practitioners will be able to get licensed for autonomous practice and be able to set up their own practices without the need for physician supervision. However, with this new opportunity, new issues arise for nurse practitioners who want to set up their own shop. This article discusses the requirements to be licensed for autonomous practice and some issues that nurse practitioners may face if they want to set out on their own.
Requirements to Be Licensed for Autonomous Practice
HB 607 creates Section 464.0123, Florida Statutes, entitled “Autonomous Practice by an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.” This new law sets forth the requirements for an advanced practice registered nurse to be licensed to practice autonomously. Specifically, this new law requires that an applicant for autonomous practice:
- Hold an active, unencumbered license to practice advanced nursing;
- Not have any disciplinary action within the past five years;
- Completed 3,000 hours of clinical practice (including clinical instruction hours) within the past five years; and
- Completed three graduate level semester hours in differential diagnosis and three graduate level semester hours in pharmacology within the past five years.
Fla. Stat. § 464.0123 (1).
The statute also provides that the Board of Nursing may add additional requirements through the rulemaking process. While the rulemaking process has not yet begun, any nurse practitioner looking to start an autonomous practice should keep abreast of this process.
Additionally, the new law requires that autonomous nurse practitioners must demonstrate the financial responsibility to pay any malpractice claims that may arise. This can be accomplished by either of the following methods:
- Maintaining professional liability coverage in an amount not less than $100,000 per claim, with a minimum annual aggregate of not less than $300,000; or
- Maintaining an unexpired, irrevocable letter of credit in an amount of not less than $100,000 per claim, with a minimum annual aggregate availability of credit of not less than $300,000.
Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(2)(a).
The new law also sets forth the practice requirements for autonomous nurse practitioners. Specifically, the new law allows for autonomous practice nurse practitioners to:
- Engage in autonomous primary care practice, including family medicine, general pediatrics, and general internal medicine;
- For certified nurse midwives, engage in autonomous practice for the following:
- Perform superficial minor surgical procedures;
- Manage the patient during labor and delivery to include amniotomy, episiotomy, and repair;
- Order, initiate, and perform appropriate anesthetic procedures.
- Perform postpartum examinations;
- Order appropriate medications;
- Provide family-planning services and well-woman care; and
- Manage the medical care of the normal obstetrical patient and the initial care of a newborn patient.
- Perform general functions of an advanced practice registered nurse;
- For patients that require the services of a health care facility, they can:
- Admit and discharge patients; and
- Manage the care of the patient in the facility.
- Provide a signature, certification, stamp, verification, affidavit, or endorsement that is otherwise required to be provided by a physician, with the notable exception that they cannot provide medical marijuana certifications.
Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(a).
Additionally, the new law requires that certified nurse midwifes must have a written transfer agreement with a hospital and a written referral agreement with a licensed physician. Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(b). Finally, the law prohibits autonomous nurse practitioners from performing any surgical procedure other than a subcutaneous procedure. Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(c).
Issues with Autonomous Practice
Nurse practitioners looking to establish their own practice will now face many of the same issues that physicians face. The first issue is existing employment agreements. Many nurse practitioners were forced to sign employment agreements either with their physician practice group or hospital when they began their employment. Many of these employment agreements contain restrictive covenants, governing when and where employees can work after terminating their current job (e.g., they may prevent the nurse practitioner from working at any competitive practice within 20 miles of the current practice for three years). Additionally, these employee agreements may also contain prohibitions on soliciting patients or employees. Any nurse practitioner seeking to establish an autonomous practice needs to first understand what restrictions are contained in any current employment agreement and the validity of those restrictions.
Next, nurse practitioners should decide the type of business entity that should be formed. As licensed professionals, nurse practitioners, in addition to the normal business entity options, will have the ability to form Professional Associations or Professional Limited Liability Corporations in Florida. What business entity a nurse practitioner should choose is very fact intensive and depends on an individual’s circumstances. However, in any event, it is strongly recommended that any nurse practitioner seeking to start their own practice consult with competent legal and tax professionals to establish the business entity.
In conjunction with the above, nurse practitioners may want to form their own practice groups with multiple nurse practitioners. If this is the case, in addition to the business entity formation documents, agreements between the owners of the practice group need to be created. These agreements can be complex but are very necessary. Owners of these practice groups, much like owners of physician practice groups, need to consider numerous issues to ensure that the practice group can continue to function through changes that naturally occur over time. For example, what if an owner wants to retire? What if one wants to quit and set up a new practice group across the street? What if an owner passes away? Further, when practice groups are formed, additional licensure in the form of a health care clinic license from the Agency for Health Care Administration may be required. These and many more questions need to be addressed at the outset to minimize future uncertainty.
In addition, much like physician practice groups, nurse practitioners will need to adopt their own employee agreements, employment handbooks, and employee policies and procedures.
Finally, and probably most importantly, autonomous nurse practitioners need to be able to bill private and government insurance. This includes getting a Medicare/Medicaid provider number and reviewing insurance contracts and Medicare/Medicaid provider agreements.
Nurse practitioners seeking to start their own autonomous practice should seek out legal counsel to assist at each of these steps.
Courthouses are filled with lawsuits from physicians who wanted to start their own practice but failed to properly plan for issues that a competent attorney could have warned them would arise. As nurse practitioners begin to start their own practices, they will face the same issues and should take the same precautions that physician practices do to protect themselves and the future of their practice.
Smith & Associates has extensive experience representing physicians and physician practice groups. If you are a nurse practitioner seeking to take advantage of this new law and start your own autonomous practice, you should contact an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights and options.