In discussions about healthcare, there are two ubiquitous subjects: cost and access. Everyone from patients to providers to legislators are driven by the fact that healthcare should be accessible and affordable for all. These issues are exacerbated by the growing physician shortage—which data from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows could be up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. It is no wonder that hospitals and other healthcare organizations have embraced PAs (physician assistants) on their healthcare teams for over fifty years.
PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage evidence-based treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient's principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs practice in every state and in every setting and specialty—and they're enhancing access to affordable care.
Hospitals and health systems that employ PAs already know their immense value. PAs provide high-quality, inexpensive, patient-centered care with excellent outcomes. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management compared different staffing models at community hospitals: one with a provider group of three physicians and three PAs; the second with nine physicians and two PAs. The data showed that the quality indicators were equal between the two groups, but the cost of care was far less in the provider group with more PAs—illustrating two key benefits of hiring PAs.
Plus, patients love their PAs. A Harris Poll found that 93 percent regard PAs as trusted healthcare providers, 92 percent said that having a PA makes it easier to get a medical appointment, and 91 percent believe that PAs improve the quality of healthcare.
Over the past few decades, the PA profession has grown exponentially, with more than 123,000 PAs currently practicing in the United States. In fact, the profession is expected to grow significantly faster than average for all occupations—37 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as we inch closer to 2030 and the physician shortage worsens, the growing PA workforce is well-positioned to increase access to care—especially in rural or underserved areas.
But right now, the healthcare industry can't make the most of what this expanding segment of healthcare providers has to offer.
To the detriment of patients, other providers and health systems, PAs practice under some of the most restrictive state practice laws and regulations. The most stifling requirements dictate how PAs and their collaborating physicians work together, including where and how often a physician must consult with each PA, and with how many PAs a physician can collaborate. Over time, these outdated requirements have made it difficult for PAs to practice at the top of their education and experience, and difficult for hospitals, health systems and physicians to fully deploy these critical team members.
PAs, physicians, and other members of healthcare teams should be empowered to make decisions at the practice level, where the skills and experience of every team member are well understood. The reality is, every medical setting may experience unique challenges—one may treat more patients affected by a chronic condition, such as diabetes, whereas another practice may treat a larger proportion of elderly patients with a higher prevalence of co-morbidities. In any case, enabling this type of decision making at the practice level allows healthcare teams to better harness the time and talents of each clinician—ultimately increasing their ability to meet patients' needs in a cost-effective manner.
Experts are coming to the same conclusion. A June 2018 study conducted by the Hamilton Project, an economic research group and think tank within the Brookings Institution, concludes that removing barriers to PA care would alleviate healthcare shortages and improve efficiency and productivity in the delivery of healthcare—without adverse effects on patient outcomes.
Practices and health systems need the ability to build a care team that meets the needs of their patients. And the many restrictive laws and regulations currently in place simply don't allow for that.
The American Academy of PAs is committed to modernizing laws and regulations affecting PAs, and putting decisions about practice where they belong—at the practice level. It's time to put patients first by allowing healthcare teams to determine how they can best care for their patients.
Healthcare in the United States is constantly evolving as we adapt to advancements in technology, changing patient needs, and emerging health threats. PAs have the versatile skill set and the rigorous education needed to help move healthcare forward and ensure access to affordable, high-quality care for all. Let's make the most of America's PAs.
To learn more about AAPA, please visit www.aapa.org.