physician relationships


The Physician Assistant Versus Doctor Struggle

Physician Assistant Versus Doctor

Under ideal conditions, physicians lead high-performing, inter-professional healthcare teams that consistently work in the best interest of patients. The teams, which often include physician assistants, recognize each member’s contributions, communicate effectively and share decision-making responsibility. 

That’s under ideal conditions. 

Unfortunately, few inter-professional healthcare teams work under ideal conditions. Physicians are facing increasing amounts of paperwork, bureaucracy is becoming more pervasive and reimbursements are decreasing. Healthcare has changed, and everyone is feeling stress, frustration and even anger—and its manifesting itself in the form of conflict.

It seems many healthcare teams are spending entirely too much time addressing physician assistant versus doctor schisms, and it’s not healthy for the physicians, the assistants or the patients. 

The physician assistant versus doctor battle isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, but it does seem to have taken on a new acuity since control of the healthcare system has shifted away from physicians and into the hands of corporations. 

On one hand, physicians have always believed that they are best positioned and prepared to make decisions about patient care and treatment plans. After all, physicians are highly educated, trained in practical wisdom through lengthy and intense residencies and reared to believe their assessments, which are based on science. 

On the other hand, physician assistants, are also highly educated, spending 27 incredibly intense months honing their abilities to keep patients healthy. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, studies show that physician assistants who provide high-quality care deliver outcomes that are very similar to those of physician-provided care. 

And that might be the rub—and the reason for the physician assistant versus doctor divide. 

Physicians have long enjoyed unwavering respect, their decisions often going unquestioned by anyone other than other physicians (and of course their facilities’ administrators). But as physicians assistants have gained more clout and healthcare systems increasingly demand collaboration among doctors and their teams, medicine has become a team sport. 

Transitioning from autonomy to teamwork can be difficult, but it’s an indispensable way to deliver exceptional patient care. And the transition doesn’t have to come with a lot of conflict, especially if physicians begin to see the true value that physician assistants bring to the team. 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, more than 50 percent of family physicians work with an inter-professional team that includes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and/or a physician assistant.

The study also points out that as resources become more scarce and more people access healthcare services, additional expertise will be needed to ensure that patients continue to receive exceptional care and keep people healthy. 

Keeping people healthy is where physician assistants shine. They are trained to help patients create environments and lifestyles that promote “good health and healthy behaviors.” They can also be incredibly valuable when it comes to rounding, performing pre- and post-operative care, working on admissions and discharges and even conducting consults. 

At the end of the day, these are all activities that can take some of the stress and burden off of physicians, freeing them up to focus on doing what they do best—lead inter-professional teams that deliver the highest levels of patient care. 

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