The PA's Role

What is the value of a PA? What skills and value do PAs add to the healthcare system? 

Because of their general medical background, PAs have flexibility in the types of medicine they can practice. Thus, they can be responsive to changing healthcare needs. Additionally, they are uniquely placed to provide preventive care services in all settings, from primary care to surgery. PAs believe strongly in patient education for better health.

PAs work in physician-PA teams and are educated in a collaborative approach to healthcare, which improves coordination of care and can improve outcomes. PAs are educated in intense educational programs that last approximately 27 months. They can be quickly trained and educated to begin practice, helping offset the worsening physician shortages.

PAs extend the care that physicians provide and increase access to care. PAs are creative, compassionate practitioners who strive to treat the “whole person.” Most PA programs require clinical training rounds in an underserved area or practice. PAs are trained and prepared to deliver healthcare to those most in need.

 

How are PAs helping to transform healthcare?  

PAs not only treat disease, but they also promote health, decreasing healthcare demand through preventive care. PAs are working in conjunction with national healthcare priorities. For example, Healthy People 2020, an initiative headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has four foundational health principles that align with the type of care that PAs provide. These principles are: helping people to live longer through preventing disease, eliminating health disparities, creating environments that promote good health and promoting healthy behaviors through all life stages.

PAs are leaders in team-based, coordinated care. Physician-PA teams are fundamental to the PA profession. Today, the U.S. healthcare system is catching up to this innovative model and has learned the benefits of team-based care. PAs can decrease demand for care by improving prevention, education and coordination of care.

PAs help alleviate some of the routine work for physicians to help maximize office hours and treat more patients. Preventive care will cut down on overall healthcare spending by warding off diseases that strain the economy and work production.

 

How does the quality of care provided by PAs rate? 

PAs deliver high-quality care and enjoy high patient satisfaction. Studies have consistently shown that PAs provide high-quality care with outcomes similar to physician-provided care. Additionally, studies have shown that incorporating PAs into office or hospital practice can improve outcomes. For example, when a trauma center transitioned from a resident-assisted to PA-assisted trauma program (without residents), the quality of care improved, with a one-day reduction in length of stay. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society indicates that nursing homes that used PAs had lower hospitalization rates for ambulatory care sensitive conditions.

Patients are consistently satisfied with PA-provided care. Studies have also shown that patients are just as satisfied with medical care provided by PAs as with that provided by doctors and do not distinguish between types of care providers.

 

How do PAs increase the cost-effectiveness of healthcare? 

Studies have shown that PAs can increase the cost-effectiveness of healthcare. PA labor costs are more affordable. A practice employing a PA pays less in overhead costs for that PA compared to a physician, while having a healthcare provider on board who can provide most of the same services. A study examining a national sample of patients found that those who saw a PA for most of their yearly office visits had approximately 16 percent fewer visits per year than patients who only saw physicians.

Additionally, PAs provide preventive services, which reduce the need for more costly acute care and chronic care management. Patient costs, in terms of actual payment, lost time from work and unnecessary pain, are decreased when patients can be seen promptly in the most appropriate setting. For example, it is always more cost-effective to get a flu vaccination than to be hospitalized for an influenza-related complication.

PA education costs less and takes less time than physician education, which allows PAs to enter the workforce more quickly. Further, PAs can practice in any medical or surgical specialty, and they can perform almost all the duties that physicians perform. Therefore, PAs are cost-effective options for practices and hospitals looking to offset physician shortages and trim costs.

 

How do PAs fit into healthcare reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)? 

The intent of healthcare reform is to provide care for all Americans while reducing healthcare costs through adequate preventive care. PAs help extend physician care and can easily adapt to any care model. Their education prepares them to work in teams, and they help to coordinate care and provide preventive services.

PAs were recognized by Congress and the President as crucial to improving U.S. healthcare. In the PPACA, Congress recognized PAs as one of three healthcare professions in primary care. PAs were also recognized as crucial to the Independence at Home model noted in the PPACA. Further acknowledging PAs’ value in furthering health care reform, the administration committed additional money for the education of PAs.

One example of an emerging care model that is strongly supported by healthcare reform is the patient-centered medical home (PCMH). This model makes use of all healthcare providers’ skills in ways that are most efficient and effective for patients and encourages open and continued communication with each provider and the patient.

In a PCMH, clinicians work together to provide care that is comprehensive, ongoing and coordinated. The clinical team provides primary, acute and preventive medical care. The team also integrates specialty referrals and other services from the health system and community.

Additionally, PAs play a vital role in chronic care management. Chronic care management programs may reduce hospital admissions, readmissions, specialty care and prescription drug use, in turn eliminating costly healthcare services. This model relies heavily on patient education and empowering patients to play an integral role in their healthcare.

Read more Quick Facts about the PA profession.

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