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PAs Practice Medicine in Specialties to Increase Access to Care

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 25, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Since last October, more than 6 million Americans have entered the healthcare system under the Affordable Care Act, which raises the often-asked question: "Who will provide care for new and existing patients?"

For an answer, consider America's more than 95,000 physician assistants (PAs), who provide access to high-quality, cost-effective care for millions of Americans.

PAs practice medicine across all specialties including dermatology, orthopaedics and pediatrics. While some medical providers may be locked into one specialty for their entire career, new research shows that the average PA will practice medicine in two or three different specialties throughout his or her career.

"We are trained as medical generalists, and as a result of the broad medical education that we receive, we might just be the most nimble and dynamic health professional practicing medicine today," said Lawrence Herman, PA-C, MPA, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. He explained that PAs are educated side by side with physicians in intense graduate-level medical programs. PAs provide care in offices and clinics and also make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes.

According to AAPA, a typical PA will treat 3,500 patients in a year, writing as many as 5,200 prescriptions as part of that care. Recent data also shows that 37 percent of PAs are practicing in medically underserved counties in the United States.

Jennifer Winter, PA-C, president of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants, said that a team-based approach to care that makes full use of PAs ensures quick access to quality care for patients.

"Team-based care in our situation simply allows more providers to be able to see patients," she said. Winter practices in a rural area of Washington state, where there are only five dermatologists covering a five-county area. Four PAs, however, help increase access to this care. "As it is, we're underserved, but with those PAs we care for a great deal more than we would be able to without them."

Often, PAs will consult with physicians for additional opinions and expertise, just as physicians often consult with each other about challenging cases. "More patients can be seen this way because we're not overlapping, with two different providers seeing the same patient on the same day doing different [things]," Winter said.

Thomas Gocke, III, PA-C, president of Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery, said PAs in his specialty may also work in surgery first-assisting alongside their physician partners in addition to seeing and counseling patients in an office or hospital.

"An experienced PA has the surgical acumen to watch out for procedures that need special care, such as implant placement or fracture reduction, which gives that physician another set of hands and eyes that have the skill and ability to perform those types of procedures," he said.

But PAs also bring broad-based medical knowledge to the exam room because they have to recertify as medical generalists every 10 years.

"I never stop looking at skin wherever I am," Winter said. "I found melanoma in at least two people who were not my patients but were accompanying patients that I was seeing. We never really close our eyes. Another PA who specializes in 'derm' was examining a patient and found an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is a potentially fatal problem of the large blood vessel in the abdomen simply by observing her patient."

A generalist knowledge aids PAs specializing in pediatrics, too, according to Darren Young, president of the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics. Some PAs even have residencies, or pursue advanced training in a pediatrics subspecialty or in general pediatrics. It is more cost-effective and efficient to have a highly qualified, well-educated PA practicing medicine in tandem with a physician. "That really increases the effectiveness of the time spent by both the PA and the physician," Young said.

Listen to the full audio from a press conference call featuring these PAs and learn more about the profession by visiting http://www.pasconnect.org/explaining-the-roles-of-pa-in-specialties.

SOURCE American Academy of Physician Assistants

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