Physician assistants job growth illustrates need for cost-effective staffing solutions

Apr 18, 2016 | Hospital Finance Efficiency

With more Americans obtaining health insurance, patient bases are growing rapidly. To meet the demand, providers are on a physician assistant hiring spree. In turn, the position has become highly appealing to college grads hoping to enter the medical field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job is expected to grow at 30 percent over the next 10 years, which is must faster than average.

Why the growth in demand?
As the job's name would suggest, physician assistants serve as additional support in emergency, operating and exam rooms. However, in some states, they are even qualified to prescribe medicine and see patients without a physician present. For this reason, they're poised to become important assets in underserved communities, particularly in rural areas.

"In those areas, PAs can help relieve physician workload by handling common care issues or follow-up appointments, for instance," James Kilgore, director of the physician assistant program in the UAB School of Health Professions, told UAB Magazine.

In fact, physician assistants have to undergo a training that's comparable to medical students. However, there is one important differentiating detail between physician assistants and medical students: Physician assistants tend to accrue less debt. Kilgore said that four years of medical school averages around $250,000 in debt, while two-and-a-half in physician assistant programs yields only around $90,000.

The cost of becoming a physician assistant is a great incentive, adding to the job's growth, but it's been a challenge motivating grads to take their talents to rural areas. According to Kilgore, the money is in specialized fields or serving urban communities. That's why UAB is working on recruiting physician assistants to the counties that need it most, like in Alabama, where Kilgore said 62 of 67 counties are "either fully or partially underserved."

Other benefits of hiring physician assistants
However, even in areas that aren't technically underserved, physician assistants have great value. According to a report by High Point University, the most obvious benefit is delegating certain workloads away from physicians. In a health care climate that's becoming more focused on care, having the resources to ensure all services are handled with quality is essential.

Additionally, the value-based care model is an idea that physician assistants have always been familiar with, as Dawn Morton-Rias, president and CEO of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, told RevCycleIntelligence.

"That's how our profession has been even before it became sexy to be value-added or quality focused," she said. "We have to just continue to stay on message in that regard and not get caught up with the tides changing or trends."

Beyond that, the employment of any non-physician practitioner, such as nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, can benefit practices by increasing efficiency and improving access to care for patients. It also helps boost patient satisfaction. For these reasons, according to the High Point report, the addition of physician assistants and other non-physician practitioners can increase revenues. In fact, data from the Medical Group Management Association showed that the position generates more revenue beyond what it costs in compensation.

With practices enduring the financial risks of value-based care, it helps to have a complete, fully trained staff to ensure proficiency at all stages of your revenue cycle. To get the most out of your staff and improve your financial efficiency, contact Professional Medical Services for all the necessary training seminars.