Physician assistants hired at hospital
Two physician assistants will work at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre as part of a $3.8-million pilot project to allow doctors to spend more time with patients.
A total of 10 physician assistants (PAs) will be in high needs locations around the province to perform more routine duties such as taking a patient’s history and ordering lab tests.
The first PA started in Milk River on Aug. 29. Other locations scheduled to receive PAs include Bassano, Beaverlodge, Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer.
“There are four in place right now and the recruitment is (underway) for the remaining six, of which two are going to Red Deer. We hope to have them in place in the next month or so,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, vice-president and chief medical officer of quality and medical affairs with AHS.
She said AHS Central Zone asked to participate in the pilot and the zone will decide where its PAs will be assigned to work. Likely a group of doctors will supervise them.
PAs will work about 12 to 18 months and an assessment of the pilot will be done to see if PAs are a good fit for Alberta’s health-care system, she said.
“I think what it will do is allow for probably care of more patients so that you get better flow and overall care of the patients,” Yiu said.
Dr. Peter Bouch, chairman of Red Deer Primary Care Network, said physician assistants could work well in a hospital setting or speciality clinic. A PA could take patient histories, perform some part of the physical exam, and assist patients navigating the health care system.
They could also give advice to people on lifestyle and diet, he said.
“A lot of time physicians don’t have enough time to spend with patients to discuss these things and that role could definitely be filled by a physician assistant for sure,” Bouch said.
Physician assistants have been used elsewhere to alleviate the load of the doctor and if properly used, they could be a great addition to the health care team, he said.
Natalie St-Pierre, spokesperson with the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, said a physician assistant is like a resident that never leaves.
“The doctor is still responsible for his patient population, however the physician assistant can come in and help and provide service and care and take histories and come up with treatment plans, diagnose, prescribe — all of the above,” St-Pierre said.
Undergraduates must complete a 24-month program, currently available in Ontario and Manitoba, to become physician assistants.
They can earn between $80,000 to $100,000 to start.
“The PA scope of practice would mirror that of their supervising physician.
“They could practise in all areas and specialties, anywhere from primary care, emergency medicine, orthopedics, neurosurgery, neurology, psychiatry — as long as they have completed their course, preferably obtained their certification, and they’ve been trained by the physician and the physician is confident, and the PA as well, in their level of expertise and skills.”
About 400 PAs are practising mostly in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba. Some are already working in occupational settings in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan.
About half of PAs are trained by and work for the Canadian Forces.
St-Pierre said physician assistants have worked in the Canadian Forces for about 50 years and outside the forces since 1999.
She said the United States has about 90,000 PAs. They have been working in that country since the 1960s.
“It was a spinoff from the Vietnam War. They had these highly trained medics who were to the level of physician assistants. Once they came back from the war, they were looking for places to utilize their skills. Then the position was created. It was born within the health-care system.”