Let physician assistants be part of the primary care answer

There has been so much change in medicine, physicians are leaving primary care, and new ideas are being bantered about such as patient centered medical homes (PCMH) and accountable care organizations (ACO), in an attempt to try to address the problem.   To add to this strain, is the knowledge that medicine is going to have to be ready to absorb thousands of additional patients in the near future with the passage of the health care bill in 2010.  Who’s going to take care of all of these patients, those who are coming into the medical system as well as those who are losing their primary care physician who have left?

In all of these numerous conversations regarding the changes in medicine, one of the available answers to help address patient care has been brushed over.  What about us, those physician assistants (PA) out there?  Can we not be a part of the answer, can we not see primary care patients?  We are well trained, we have the clinical skills, we have the knowledge base, so let us be a part of the solution.

A recent survey has shown that 50% of all physicians have worked with a PA, what about the other 50%?  Why haven’t they worked with a PA and seen what we can do for their practice?

We bring a lot of skills to the table which can help address the impending avalanche of patients.  Not only are we cost effective (our overall labor costs are less than a physician), but we can take the stress off of a physician needing to see a certain amount of patients per day, so as to keep the clinic productive.  Through our cooperatively working as a team member, alongside our physician, we can allow you, the physician, that much sought after balance between your personal life and work.

We can also bring to the table a different set of clinical expertise and experience.  Every physician who has gone through medical school, and then residency, knows that they leave this training with certain skills and interests.   Well PAs do the same, we have certain interests in medicine (such as skills and experience in woman’s health issues, athletic injuries, etc) that the physician we are working for, may not have.  So we can complement each other in our seeing patients.

Yet another area that we are good at, is in our patient communications skills.  I remember being told by my first supervising physician that he would never see a patient without my being present, due to the fact that I spoke the patient’s language and he didn’t.  I did a lot of the patient education and spoke in English with them using words they could understand.  My supervising physician only spoke in scientific terms, which was easily lost on his patients.  Physicians sometimes tend to use medical terms, whereas we as PAs use English terms with patients when we are explaining their health conditions with them.

By us being the communicator, patients are less likely to misunderstand and therefore more likely to comply with their medical regimens.  If patients understand what they are supposed to do, they then feel they are a part of their own medical care and can then cooperate with us, their providers.

So with all of this in mind, let us, the PAs come alongside you, the physician.  Let us work together, see patients in the clinic together, work using our clinical strengths and experience together.  Let us work as a team, and then in the environment of respect and colleagiality, we can address together the health care needs of our nation.

Sharon Bahrych is a physician assistant who blogs at A PA View on Medicine.

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