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Should PAs Play a Greater Role in Your Practice?

Since the goal of most physicians is more time with patients, many are turning to mid-level providers like physician assistants (PAs) to help shift the balance.

Although the PA role was created by physicians and the certification has been around for almost 50 years, some myths about PAs persist. For those considering expanding the role of PAs in their practice, we’d like to set the record straight.

Myth 1: PAs require a significant amount of hands-on supervision.

Although PAs must have a physician supervisor and often work closely with him/her, on-site supervision is not required in many states. In some practices, PAs work autonomously to see patients, entering encounter information into an EHR to be reviewed later by a physician from the practice. Indeed, the US Veterans Health Administration recently suggested changing “supervising” physician to “collaborating” physician in the regulatory language.

Myth 2: PAs are not highly trained.

True, they don’t have an MD degree, but PAs receive about 52 weeks of classroom education and spend about the same amount of time in clinical rotation. Also, they are specifically trained in the medical model, making them a better fit for some physicians than other mid-level providers (e.g., nurse practitioners).

Myth 3: PAs are PAs because they couldn’t get into med school.

In fact, many PAs are looking for a way to work in healthcare while maintaining a better work/life balance than physicians. A far cry from physician wannabes, PAs chose their profession carefully and worked hard to be admitted to a PA program, which can be highly competitive. Many cite the absence of business-related tasks as the reason they chose PA over MD.

As the healthcare industry moves from a reactionary focus (taking care of the ill) to a proactive one (keeping people healthy), mid-level practitioners are becoming an important part of care teams charged with a variety of wellness activities and frequent, comprehensive follow ups of every chronically ill patient in the practice. PAs are not only an important part of those teams, they are also a way for physicians to become even more efficient as they work to accommodate the growing number of patients seeking care.

Expanding their current role

Over the past couple years, the role of physician assistants have greatly expanded in healthcare, especially in hospital-based medicine. The National Commission on Certification for Physician Assistants estimated that the percentage of PAs has grown up to 13% across all healthcare specialties, with hospital and ER medicine being the largest area. Hospitals are in luck as PAs fill a large cap in patient care

  1. Provider shortage
  2. Recruiting ease
  3. Healthcare industry finances

In the midst of the pandemic, physicians assistants are one of the many healthcare roles that have seen their authority increase. The shortage of physicians nation-wide had led to many states waiving practice requirements for physicians assistants, granting them authorities to diagnose patients and prescribe medications without legal practice agreements.

Regardless a large amount of physician assistants continues to face layoffs, furloughs, and reduced hours.  22% of physicians assistants have been furloughed because of the pandemic with 4% laid off, 59% seeing their hours cut, and 30% receiving a pay cut.

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