The objective of this systematic review was to synthesize the evidence of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) working in alternative or complementary roles in inpatient settings. Those in alternative roles substitute for another provider and deliver similar services. Those in complementary roles deliver additional services to meet patient health needs. 

We searched 10 electronic databases, reference lists, pertinent journals and websites from 1980 to July 2012 with no language, publication or geographical restrictions. Study identification and assessment were completed independently by two-member teams. Internal validity was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool. The quality of the economic analysis was evaluated using the Quality of Health Economic Studies (QHES) instrument. The Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) system was used to assess outcome-specific quality of evidence. 

Three dated trials evaluated CNS and NP inpatient roles; they were conducted in North America and included 488 adults and 821 neonates. In one study, CNSs in complementary provider roles, when compared with usual care, were equally effective with equal resource use (very low-quality evidence). In two studies, NPs in alternative roles, when compared with physicians, were equally effective with equal‑to-more resource use and equal costs (low- to moderate-quality evidence). The quality of the economic analyses was poor. 

Only three dated studies were identified. More research is needed to determine cost‑effectiveness and inform policies and decisions