The Role of the Physician Assistant Within Modern Healthcare

Role of the Physician Assistant

It was the 1960s and the United States was facing challenges on several fronts. 

President John F. Kennedy, a charismatic and inspiring leader, had been assassinated. Young men from every major city and small town had been sent to a jungle thousands of miles away to fight an unpopular war. Millions of Americans were taking to the streets in support of the civil rights movement. 

Thank goodness for the physician assistant

While an assassinated president, a war and riots in the streets are the three events widely viewed as the decade’s most important, another issue from the time has proven to be every bit as critical to the country–the introduction of the physician assistant to health care.

While it didn’t generate many headlines, inspire people to take to the streets or throw the government into utter turmoil, the creation of physician assistant training in the 1960s did help the country deal with a physician shortage and forever changed the way healthcare services were delivered.

And today, the role of the physician assistant has never been more important. 

Here’s a look at three ways the physician assistant role has evolved to become indispensable within modern healthcare:

1) Expanded functions

The first physician assistants existed to provide basic medical services. They checked blood pressure, took temperatures and dealt with common, non-life-threatening illnesses. They truly were assistants to the physicians, there to expedite care and keep patients moving through clinics. 

Today, however, physician assistants are at the forefront of delivering care to patients who present with all types of ailments and illnesses. Physician assistants conduct physical exams, diagnose illnesses, develop treatment strategies, perform medical procedures, assist in surgery and even write prescriptions. 

And, there’s a good chance they’ll soon be doing even more. 

President Obama’s administration recently brought forward a proposal that would change federal rules and allow physician assistants to provide provide even more services to Medicare patients. 

2) Preventing illness

The very first physician assistants were largely reactionary. Patients showed up in the clinic or hospital, and the physician assistant would try to address their health problems. 

Not anymore. 

Today’s physician assistants are at the tip of the spear when it comes to preventing illness–and that’s a big deal to the federal government, insurance companies and patients. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made keeping people healthy a priority, and physician assistants are national leaders in the effort. 

Physician assistants educate patients about how their lifestyle choices affect their overall health. They create treatment plans for patients that involve coordinated care across specialty areas of medicine. And, they work directly with patients to implement the plans–all in an effort to promote good health, prevent disease and reduce the cost of healthcare. 

3) Reform leaders

The nation’s healthcare system is and has been the focus of intense discussion and reform efforts. 

As the industry has been evaluated, two major issues of concern have emerged–access and cost. Physician assistants are leaders in working to reform both. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management showed that physician assistants significantly reduced healthcare costs. Researchers found that the higher the physician assistant-to-physician ratio, the less patients wound up paying for care. 

In addition, the country is once again in the throes of a doctor shortage. And once again, the country is turning to the physician assistant to ensure that people have access to the medical care they need. 

It took a half-century for it to happen, but physician assistants are finally being recognized for the important role they play–and have played–in shaping the past, present and future of healthcare. 

Are you a physician assistant searching for a rewarding role at a community hospital? Browse our open positions now.

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