Study: PAs Good for Patients, Good for Practices

October 17, 2014
Stephen H. Hanson, PA-C

A new national poll not only validates physician assistant care, but verifies what I've known about my profession for years.

What a difference 47 years have made.

When I was a mobile intensive care paramedic and thinking about doing something different in medicine, I knew personally knew just one physician assistant (PA). Without a firm understanding of the profession, and its potential, I made the decision to advance my career and train to be a PA without any real role models or other external support.

When I graduated from the Stanford University Medical Center PA program, and took my first job in Bakersfield, Calif., I could count on one hand the number of PAs that I knew outside of my graduates.

From the graduation of the first PAs from Duke University in 1967 and my graduation in 1981, the PA profession has grown exponentially in both size and acceptance within the U.S. healthcare system, and in the eyes of the patients who rely on us for the medical care.

PAs have always intuitively been aware of our value within the healthcare system, but have never had significant external validation of that value until today.

A new nationwide study (conducted Sept. 15–22, 2014) confirms that patients believe PAs add value to healthcare teams and provide excellent patient service. The study, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), surveyed more than 1,500 U.S. adults. Among an oversample of 680 Americans who have interacted with a PA in the last year (meaning either they personally saw a PA or were present for the visit of someone they care for), the survey revealed strong support for the care PAs deliver, includinig:

• 93 percent agree PAs are going to be part of the solution to address the shortage of healthcare providers;

• 93 percent agree PAs are trusted healthcare providers;

• 92 percent agree having a PA at a practice makes it easier for a patient to get an appointment;

• 91 percent agree PAs improve health outcomes for patients; and

• 91 percent agree PAs improve the quality of healthcare.

In an era when only 24 percent of U.S. adults say they have found a primary healthcare provider whom they like and trust, the findings show that PAs get high marks for the way they interact with patients. Ninety-three percent of those who have interacted with a PA say that PAs explain health or treatment matters in ways that are easily understandable and 91 percent agree that they or their loved one have a good relationship with the PA they see.

I have always "felt the love" of the medical and nursing colleagues with whom I practice daily, as well as the patients whom I care for each and every day. It is nice to see the validation of the profession as a whole by a third party, and by the patients and community members themselves.

AAPA President John McGinnity, MS, PA-C, stated the "results tell us that PAs are not only good for patients, but also good for business. Patients want providers they can get to know and trust, and these results show PAs win over their patients with stellar care and excellent communication."

It helps understand the demand for PAs, which has become astronomical.

Talking with colleagues who educate future PAs in some of the country’s 191 programs, the demand to get into PA programs continues to grow. There will be thousands of applications for just 50 or fewer seats in a PA program, likely why there are still about 70 PA programs seeking accreditation.

Once they are ready to practice medicine, PA students have their pick of jobs. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, more than 6,000 PAs enter the workforce each year and half of them have three or more job offers.

When you look at the value and utility that PAs bring to the healthcare team, and what it means for quality of life for physicians and other members of the team, expanding the utilization of PAs within the healthcare system is a "no-brainer."

It is great and gratifying as a PA to see my life’s work, and the work of all my PA colleagues validated in such a positive way.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.