A 2014 survey conducted by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants indicates that the number one concern among healthcare patients today is having access to care when it is most necessary. More people are concerned that they will not have access to a primary care physician when they need it, let alone a specialist for more complicated problems. The survey shows the need for expanding the role of physician assistants in providing primary care.
The good news is that steps are already being taken to do just that. Today's physician assistants are providing services we have not seen in America in a long time. By expanding the role of the physician assistant, healthcare regulators are making it possible to get away from quota-based managed care and back to the personalized care people want.
Here are three important ways physician assistants are changing healthcare delivery:
1. Reinventing the House Call
There are a growing number of healthcare delivery systems making use of physician assistants to perform what used to be known as the traditional house call. Of course, we do not call them house calls anymore; we call them home visits. However, the idea is the same. Home visits can be arranged for program participants who are housebound for any reason.
Patients love home visits because they can receive the medical care they need without having to fight traffic or sit in waiting rooms. They can go about their business until the physician assistant is scheduled to arrive, only interrupting their routine at that time. Home visits also help to keep patients more relaxed and, therefore, more receptive to care.
2. Rural Healthcare Delivery
It’s tough to find primary care physicians willing to work in rural settings during the best of times. With the current shortage of doctors, providing rural care is even more difficult. Physician assistants are picking up the slack by going where primary care physicians are unwilling to go.
Utilizing physician assistants in rural areas also makes good sense for hospital and healthcare groups who cannot justify the expense of sending a doctor to a small community. Patients seem little concerned, as long as they can receive the primary care they need.
3. Reducing Wait Times
Patients find it frustrating when getting a same-day appointment is next to impossible. Physician assistants are changing that. Just one or two in a large group practice can alleviate the pressure of a primary care physician's overloaded schedule. Patients have shorter wait times as a result.
Same-day appointments and even walk-in visits are no longer abnormal when a physician assistant is hired to help. Simply put, physician assistants are expanding healthcare access to more patients.
The American healthcare system is currently undergoing a transformation. Physician assistants, and nurse practitioners as well, are at the forefront of that transformation. They are stepping in to pick up the slack in primary care, allowing physicians to concentrate their energies on more complex cases and tasks.
We expect the expanding roles of both physician assistants and nurse practitioners to open up plenty of new jobs over the next decade. This would be a good time for young people thinking of getting into the medical field to consider one of these two career choices.