To help ease the strain of this shortage, many doctors and medical facilities should consider hiring physician assistants (PA) to help improve efficiency and improve patient access to care. While there are many physicians who take advantage of the help PAs can provide, there are still a large number of healthcare facilities who don’t realize PAs are a viable option, and that may be attributed to the fact that many times the role of a PA is misunderstood.
Below are some myths and facts about PAs .
PAs versus NPs
Outside of the healthcare industry, it’s easy to confuse PAs with nurse practitioners (NPs). And while the two professions may seem very similar, the reality is that there are many distinct differences that set them apart. Being familiar with these key differences can help physicians, practice administrators, and medical facilities determine whether choosing a PA is the right avenue for them.
* The first main distinction between the two professions is that PAs are dependent practitioners – always working with the physician led team. PAs may conduct clinical activities autonomously and act as an extension of a physician, but must do so with physician supervision. NPs in most states also work collaboratively with physicians, and currently in 16 states they may practice independently.
* Another major difference between PAs and NPs is the scope of work that each profession practices. While NPs are primarily trained in a designated field and specialty (i.e. Pediatric NP, Adult NP, etc), PAs are trained as generalists and are represented across all medical specialties. They are trained in the traditional medical model and upon completion of their program and after passing the National Certifying Exam – may practice in any healthcare setting. Conversely, NPs are registered nurses (RNs) before taking the next step to NP. Once out of school, NPs then practice medicine specific to their field of study.
* Both professions serve very specific and essential roles within the medical industry and health care system.
The role of a PA
Another common misconception about PAs is what exactly their job duties entail. Many people believe a PA is not able to prescribe medication or perform duties traditionally reserved for physicians. Both of these are myths. In many states, a PA can do anything a physician delegates to them to do, as long as they have been properly trained and are following all supervisory guidelines. PAs can prescribe medication, refer patients, order tests and interpret results, conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, counsel on preventive healthcare, assist in surgery and more. PAs may be found working in hospitals, clinics and many other types of health care settings.
For hospitals and healthcare facilities on a budget, PAs can help mitigate costs and improve overall profit and efficiency. Hiring a PA to deliver health care services may achieve significant cost savings.
Across the country, hospitals and healthcare systems are being impacted by a severe physician shortage, and while it’s not the only solution, hiring PAs to help address the changes expected from health care reform is a very valid option that should be seriously considered.
Lisa P. Shock, MHS, PA-C
President/CEO Utilization Solutions in Healthcare, Inc.
For more than 10 years, Lisa P. Shock has been working in a variety of health care settings. She has several years of practice ownership experience and is the President/CEO of Utilization Solutions in Healthcare, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in teaching practices how to utilize PAs to their fullest potential. Contact her with questions/comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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