A Good Time To Reflect on the Growing Role of PAs
By Mark Smith
October 6th – October 12th marks National Physician Assistant Week – a good time to reflect on how PAs are making a growing contribution to healthcare access and quality in the United States.
First and perhaps foremost, PAs are making it much easier for Americans to obtain timely access to care. In its 2010 study of physician supply and demand, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projected that the nation would have 131,000 too few physicians by 2025 – an unprecendented shortage that would seriously undermine patient access to care. In its 2015 update of the study, AAMC revised its projections, indicating there will be up too 91,000 too few doctors by 2025.
This is still a significant and troubling shortage of physicians, but one that is less severe than it might have been if not for the presence of a growing number of PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs). The AAMC specifically cited the growing role of PAs and NPs as a primary reason it downgraded the coming shortage from 131,000 physicians to 91,000.
Contrary to popular perception, the physician shortage will not be confined to primary care. The AAMC indicates that by 2025 the nation will have approximately 30,000 too few primary care doctors and 60,000 too few specialists. Because about 70% of PAs are in specialty care, they will play an important role in alleviating the shortage of specialists and providing care for an aging population that will require a growing volume of specialty services.
In addition, the proliferation of the “convenient care movement,” which is most visibly reflected in the rapid construction of urgent care centers nationwide, would be virtually impossible without the services of PAs. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), which now see close to 25 million underserved patients a year, were early adoptors of the team-based model of care and employ PAs in comparatively high numbers.
Ninety percent of patients surveyed in a study conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), said PAs make it easier to get an appointment and improve quality of care, showing that the important role PAs play has not gone unnoticed by the public.
Merritt Hawkins is proud to recruit PAs to hospitals, medical groups, urgent care centers, FQHCs and other facilities across the country. We extend our best wished to PAs nationwide during National PA Week and welcome any comments readers may have on the role PAs are playing in today’s evolving healthcare system.
Mark Smith is President of Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician and advanced practitioners search firm and a company of AMN Healthcare. He can be reached here.
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