With millions of new patients poised to enter the healthcare system, the question on many Americans’ minds will soon be: “Will I have access to the healthcare providers I need?” Mounting evidence indicates that America’s more than 100,000 certified physician assistants (PAs) are up to the task.
A recent online study of more than 1,500 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, found that 93 percent of Americans who have interacted with a PA (including those who have accompanied a loved one to see a PA) in the last year agree that PAs are going to be part of the solution to address a shortage of healthcare providers.
“As a workforce, PAs are extremely versatile and can adapt to the changing and growing healthcare needs in both primary care and specialties,” said AAPA President John McGinnity, MS, PA-C, DFAAPA. “It’s simple math: When PAs are on the team, health systems are able to deliver high-quality care to more patients.”
PAs also received top marks when it comes to patient satisfaction, with 93 percent of respondents who had seen a PA agreeing that PAs provide excellent patient service. In fact, more than one-third of Americans who have seen a PA in the last 12 months reported that their usual healthcare provider is a PA (36 percent).
The Affordable Care Act specifically recognizes PAs as primary care providers. PAs practice medicine and manage the full scope of patient care, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, writing prescriptions and assisting in surgery. PAs are educated at the graduate level, with most PAs receiving a Master’s degree or higher.
Over the course of their career, the average PA will have worked in two to three specialties. It is common for a PA to serve as the lead on care coordination teams and see patients in all settings without a physician present. In fact, in many rural and underserved areas, a PA may be the only provider, with physician collaboration occurring via telecommunication.
PAs are also one of the country’s fastest growing professions, increasing by more than 200 percent over the last decade, as patients and the healthcare industry recognize and seek the added value PAs bring to the healthcare team.
Despite PAs’ growth and versatility, there are still some legislative and regulatory barriers that limit their ability to practice medicine to the full extent of their education and experience. As more patients will require healthcare providers, it is becoming increasingly important to modernize laws and regulations to reflect the realities of today’s PA practice. PA-positive changes are steadily occurring, with 48 states and the District of Columbia modernizing PA laws and regulations over the past two years.
“The bottom line is that PAs increase patients’ access to high-quality care,” said McGinnity. “And, overwhelmingly, the results show that patients trust us to do it.”