Is the New 'Assistant Physician' Role Good for the Healthcare System?

July 30, 2014

It's no secret that the United States is facing a serious physician shortage. But how far should we go to ensure adequate access to patient care?

It's no secret that the United States is facing a serious physician shortage. But how far should we go to ensure adequate access to patient care?

A new Missouri law is igniting the debate. The law would allow graduates of accredited medical schools who have not yet completed residency training to become “assistant physicians” and provide primary-care services in rural or medically underserved areas.

Not to be confused with physician assistants, assistant physicians would have passed the first two steps of their medical licensing exam, but they would have not yet entered into postgraduate residency training.

They would be supervised on site by a collaborative physician for 30 days. After that, they could treat patients without direct supervision in settings 50 miles away and will be able to prescribe Schedule III, IV, and V drugs, according to Medscape.

Jeff Howell, director of government relations at the Missouri State Medical Association, told Modern Healthcare that the measure will benefit both patients and medical graduates who aren't immediately matched with a medical training position.

Still, the new bill has many critics, including the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

Ann Davis, an AAPA spokesperson, told HealthLeaders Media that the name "assistant physician" will raise confusion for patients. In addition, she said, "Physician license requirements are developed for a reason. And medical school is designed to prepare you for a residency. To jump over that set of requirements and allow folks who are not fully required to provide care is completely untested."

Practice Notes blogger and physician assistant Stephen Hanson recently shared his perspective."We need more providers, that’s for certain, but we should rely on clinicians and healthcare teams that are already proven to be effective instead of creating new positions for an unproven workforce," Hanson wrote. "Improving PA practice laws is a good start." 

What do you think of the new Missouri law to create "assistant physicians"? How will it impact patient care? Is this the right way for Missouri to expand access to care?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.