Physician Assistants Are Collaborative Team Players

April 27, 2015

Physician assistants are educated in a collaborative approach to improve coordination of care and patient outcomes.

PAs are educated to work together with physicians in a collaborative, team-based approach. It is ideal for improving coordination of care and patient outcomes, says the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). According to an AAPA issue brief, PAs are able to "perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, assist in surgery, and care for patients in hospitals and nursing homes," within individual state guidelines. They are also able to prescribe medication in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

According to Beth Smolko, past president of the Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants, PA training is modeled on the training provided to physicians in WWII. She says PAs can be particularly useful to a practice as they, "often see the same number of patients and same level of acuity of patient as the physicians [they] work with. [They] also share the burden of prior-authorizations, on-call hours, and administrative tasks."

Smolko is a certified PA who practices with a single physician at Internal Medicine of Frederick, in Western Maryland. She says working with a PA is, "an opportunity for physicians who want to provide personalized care, but can't afford to see fewer patients or physically can't manage the tremendous burden of paperwork, [phone] calls, etc., without a team member."

Recruiting firms are experiencing a significant increase in demand for PAs, most likely in response to factors such as the physician shortage, newly insured patients through the healthcare exchanges, and declining reimbursement. In 2014, the AAPA says 49 states and the District of Columbia adopted laws and regulations that improved PA practice. The "2013 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants" is a project by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants that collected demographic and job data from 76,400 certified PAs (in the United States, District of Columbia, and U.S. territories).

Some of the findings were:

• In 2003, there were 43,500 certified PAs

• In 2013, there were 95,583 certified PAs

• 40 percent of PAs practice in an office-based private practice

• 36.5 percent of PAs practice in a hospital setting

• 28 percent of PAs work in primary-care

• PAs see an average of 70 patients per week

• 62.2 percent of all female PAs are under age 40

• 37.6 percent of all male PAs are under age 40