Relative value units in health care: Friend, foe, or necessary evil?

Kate G. Sheppard, Cameron G. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article is to describe this use of relative value units (RVUs) among nurse practitioners (NP), including the challenges NPs may experience. Relative value units were developed as a means to determine reimbursement for health care based on time spent with the patient and skills required to complete the interaction, while addressing any disparities of reimbursement based on geography or insurance. Increasingly, providers such as NPs are being evaluated based in large part on how many RVUs they generate, which seems to prioritize productivity and may overlook many nonbillable aspects of the NP role such as emotional support or patient education. Nurse practitioners working in settings that require more invasive procedures may seem to be more productive on paper, regardless of the number of patients seen. Relative value units may not adequately reflect the skill and time taken to care for patients with chronic illness. Gender differences have been noted, both in terms of the number of RVUs generated for care of male or female patients, and those generated by male or female providers. If NPs are evaluated primarily based on productivity as measured by RVUs, we must consider how this might minimize or even invalidate the therapeutic relationship and holistic approach to patient care. Relative value units may negatively affect the willingness of NPs to serve as preceptors. Finally, as NPs experience less face-to-face time with patients and more demands for productivity, there may be a loss of quality care and professional integrity, which raises the risk of burnout among NPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)626-629
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 27 2020


  • Medicare
  • nurse practitioners
  • performance
  • reimbursement
  • relative value units

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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