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Physician Assistants are No Longer ‘An Experiment’

Physician Assistants are No Longer ‘An Experiment’

One out of every four practices currently employs a physician assistant (PA), according to the nearly 1,000 responses we received to our 2013 Staff Salary Survey. Next year, the number of survey respondents who say they employ PAs is likely to be much higher.

That’s according to a number of healthcare consultants and PAs who say several factors are leading practices to add PAs to their ranks, and also to expand their roles and responsibilities.

“We’re not an experiment anymore,” Ann Davis, a nonpracticing PA in Grass Valley, Calif., recently told Physicians Practice. “It’s pretty common that folks are understanding all of the benefits in the patient care and the high-acuity care that PAs can provide — the future’s very bright for the profession.”

Here are four reasons why Davis and healthcare consultants say PAs are growing in popularity:

1. Increasing familiarity. “We’re seeing a lot of physicians who are coming to practice having worked with PAs in training, and that wasn’t always the case,” said Davis, who is the senior director of state advocacy and outreach at the American Academy of Physician Assistants. She noted that as more up-and-coming physicians are exposed to PAs in training, more of them are seeing how useful PAs are in practice. “We’ll find doctors finish residency and kind of get out and say, ‘OK, I’m ready to get to work, now where are the PAs that I need to work with?’”

2. Healthcare reform. While the roles and responsibilities of PAs differ practice-to-practice and state-to-state, the physician shortage coupled with the expected influx of newly insured patients in 2014 due to the Affordable Care Act is leading many practices to reconsider if PAs are right for them, and if their current PAs should take on more responsibilities, Mary Pat Whaley, founder of Manage My Practice consulting in Durham, N.C., told Physicians Practice. “That reevaluation of [nurse practitioners] NPs and Pas is going on in almost every practice as they decide how they are going to handle this.”

3. New care models. As medical practices embrace new models of care that emphasize care coordination and teamwork, such as accountable care organizations and Patient-Centered Medical Homes, they are looking to PAs to help them transition, said Davis. “PAs work in teams, and team care is really what folks are jazzed about now.”  

4. Expanded opportunities. As more primary-care practices are looking to employ PAs, so are specialty practices, Mary Barber, senior executive vice president of marketing at physician and advanced practitioner recruiting organization Cejka Search,  told Physicians Practice. “Not too long ago I was on a panel with a neurotologist ... and he said, ‘You know, when I first started practicing I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly integrate a PA into my practice and now, having worked with a PA for a couple of years, I can’t imagine not having a PA in my practice,” said Barber. There’s “more familiarity and greater appreciation in a wider number of specialties.”

Davis said PAs are especially useful for specialists because they have a generalist education combined with specialty experience. “For example, in specialties like psychiatry, nobody shows up with just schizophrenia, they have schizophrenia and diabetes or schizophrenia and hypertension,” she said. “So that ability to treat a wide variety of medical and co-morbid conditions, that’s really valuable and PAs bring that to the practice.”

So how quickly are practices expected to begin adding PAs to their ranks? A 2012 Cejka survey of medical groups found that 63 percent plan to hire more physician assistants in 2013.

Is your practice planning to hire a new PA in 2013? Share your thoughts and plans in the comments section below.

The full findings from our 2013 Staff Salary Survey will be released in May, 2013. Last year’s survey findings are available here.

 
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