When the Affordable Care Act went into effect, it ushered an immediate influx of tens of millions of newly insured people into the healthcare system. With a shortage of doctors to meet the demand, many providers are turning to physician assistants, or PAs, to pick up the slack. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 38 percent increase in the number of PAs by 2022, raising the question of whether these newly minted healthcare workers are a help or a hindrance to a medical practice.
PAs are trained to handle many of the nuts-and-bolts procedures in a practice such as performing physical exams, ordering lab tests and prescribing medication. Degree programs follow a track similar to that of a physician program, but with a shorter time frame. Students spend a year in the classroom followed by a year in clinical rotations. Finally, they must pass a national certification exam to begin practicing under the supervision of a doctor.
Many physicians who employ a PA find that it creates a streamlined work flow, allowing them to be more productive. The PA serves as the front line by evaluating incoming patients, handling non-urgent cases themselves while turning more serious cases over to an MD for treatment. The Cleveland Clinic, one of the country’s largest medical centers, has seen an average two-hour reduction in wait time along with increased patient satisfaction since instituting a fast-track plan utilizing PAs.
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