Over the last decade, the number of people who need healthcare and the number of healthcare professionals needed in the industry have dramatically changed. No longer does Marcus Welby come to your door. Our population is aging. Medicine is more complex and its delivery and the professionals who are delivering it have changed. Your doctor’s office used to be on the corner. If it is down the street now, chances are the local hospital has bought it, or you might even receive your healthcare at a hospital clinic.

Consistently discussed are the concepts surrounding both access and affordability of healthcare. These are key elements that are extremely important to both the providers of healthcare and the patients that utilize our healthcare system. Healthcare is becoming more about the big corporate giants, and it affects the way it is delivered to you now and in the future.

In this new era of healthcare delivery, focus has shifted away from the individual provider acting as the sole guardian of each patient’s needs. The era of “Team-Based Care” is upon us, and Physician Assistants (PAs, as they are called) are an instrumental part of the medical care team. A PA can increase both the access and quality of care given to you and your family.

Who Participates in Team-Based Care?
The truth of the matter is, in the last few decades, it has become extremely rare for any healthcare provider to operate without a team of highly-skilled and competent partners. A recent article by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that team-based care is essential to the delivery of high-quality primary care, and that these teams will have better success and outcomes by remaining patient centered.

Although historically the medical team has been led by physicians, we are starting to see these patient-centered teams utilize additional providers. One such provider is the Physician Assistant. PAs have been around for 50 years, and as a patient, if you have not received care from a PA, the chances are you will. There are over 115,000 PAs practicing in every area of medicine across the U.S. PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed medical providers trained to diagnose and treat patients as well as prescribe medication. PA education is modeled on the physician medical school curriculum, and PAs are educated to make life-saving diagnostic and therapeutic decisions while working autonomously or in collaboration with other members of the healthcare team. They are certified as medical generalists with a foundation in primary care, and also have the option to seek additional education within residency and fellowships to receive additional certification in specialty and subspecialties of medicine.

A Solution to Access and Affordability
PAs work collaboratively and partner with physicians and other healthcare professionals in the delivery of care throughout all specialties of medicine. The Lynchburg region utilizes PAs in almost every specialty, and they provide patient care while being involved in healthcare administration. The average PA provides care to 16 or more patients per day, which has a true impact on your access to both primary care and specialty care. Studies have also shown that PAs reduce hospital readmission rates, length of stay and infection rates. All of these reductions have been shown to provide a major impact on cost to the current healthcare system. Additionally, team care has the ability to treat many more people in a given population. Results indicate that PAs enhance care coordination, increase access and elevate health outcomes, all while tapping into the additional benefit of being cost effective for both individual practices and larger clinics or hospital centers.

Patient Care and Satisfaction with PAs
Misperceptions still exist with regard to seeing a PA and not a physician.
It’s important to remember that PAs partner with physicians and other healthcare professionals in the care of patients. PAs are required to take similar continuing medical education courses as physicians do and have similar requirements for maintaining licensure throughout the majority of states. A study published this year in Medical Care looked at community health centers and found PA-delivered care was equivalent to care delivered by physicians. A Harris Poll also shows 93 percent of patients who have been treated by PAs are satisfied with the care provided and consider the PA a trusted healthcare provider.

Medical care delivered within the U.S. is increasingly complex, and patients will need continuous access to well-educated, clinically trained medical care providers. As the healthcare system provides additional access points, it will be essential for these facilities to be staffed with patient-centered, team-based, providers. This year the PA profession celebrates its 50th anniversary. A review shows PAs are providing high quality healthcare while also increasing access and affordability for their patients nationwide. Patients will increasingly be cared for by PAs that operate within the team-based model. PAs will be essential in the future delivery of quality, accessible, affordable healthcare at both the local, state and national level.