Nurse practitioners are more in demand than most physicians as states allow direct access to patients for these increasingly popular health professionals.

Only family physicians, psychiatrists and internists are more in demand than nurse practitioners, according to the latest snapshot into the US health care workforce from MerrittHawkins, a subsidiary of AMN Healthcare. Merritt's annual analysis of its database of more than 3,200 searches over a year’s time shows nurse practitioners cemented in the top 5 most requested searches.

Nurse practitioner Juliana Duque gives a patient who is pregnant insecticide and and information about mosquito protection at the Borinquen Medical Center, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 in Miami. The CDC has advised pregnant women to avoid travel to the nearby neighborhood of Wynwood where mosquitoes are apparently transmitting Zika directly to humans. The patient also had a test for the Zika virus following her exam.

For the 11th consecutive year, the family doctor was the most highly recruited doctor, followed by psychiatrists amid a nationwide shortage of behavioral specialists. Internists were third on the Merritt list followed by nurse practitioners, which rated ahead of more than 15 physician specialties.

The trend may only escalate as more states give direct access to nurse practitioners as momentum builds behind legislation to eliminate hurdles for patients who need primary care.

"The demand for nurse practitioners has never been higher," American Association of Nurse Practitioners President Cindy Cooke said.  “With the rise of full practice authority in 22 states and the District of Columbia, more patients than ever have direct access to high quality nurse practitioner care in every setting – including the veterans’ health system.”

There are several states also considering full-practice authority such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania, AANP said. The state activity follows last year's decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant direct access to advanced practice registered nurses.

MerrittHawkins, which works with hospitals, medical groups and others looking to hire doctors and allied health professionals, says the general public is demanding nurse practitioners as consumerism takes hold in the U.S. healthcare system.

Retail clinics like those run by CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance are staffed by nurse practitioners offering quick access to treat routine maladies. Urgent care centers, outpatient clinics and doctor's offices also staff nurse practitioners in primary roles.

What’s more, the shift away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care and population health incorporates more nurse practitioners and physician assistants to work with doctors in a team-based approach. Insurers are rewarding medical care providers for getting healthcare done right the first time rather than basing pay on volume of are delivered.

“Nurse practitioners and other allied health professionals are going to be a major part of our healthcare delivery stems, especially with population health and team-based care,” said Travis Singleton, senior vice president of MerrittHawkins. “You look at healthcare delivery networks that are shifting before our very eyes.”

Bruce Japsen, Contributor