Here’s what your PA can do for you

October 13, 2018

(BPT) - Take a second to think about where you and your family go to receive healthcare — a local hospital, private practice or even an urgent care center. It might be just down the street, in the next town over or a short drive away.For some patients in Wisconsin, that isn’t the case. Instead, they have to travel for hours to get to the closest healthcare provider. If they don’t have access to a car, that trip is likely even more of a logistical nightmare.Unfortunately, that’s the reality for patients at a community health center in Bayfield, Wisconsin. One PA, or physician assistant, has been practicing at that clinic for 12 years. Located near Lake Superior, it’s the only healthcare option for miles. When the physician medical director of the health center left suddenly, its more than 2,000 patients were left high and dry.Current Wisconsin laws require PAs to maintain a practice agreement with a specific physician at all times. As a result, the sudden loss of the physician meant that the clinic’s PA was legally not able to see her patients or offer the much-needed healthcare she can provide. Only when a new physician was found could her patients again rely on her for high-quality care.Across Wisconsin, rural areas and medically underserved communities need more easily accessible providers. And while PAs are doing their best to help fill those gaps, outdated laws are holding them back. In the end, it’s really patients who lose.PAs practice medicine. They diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and can serve as your principal healthcare provider. You’ll find them in every state, every medical setting, and every specialty. In Wisconsin, there are more than 2,400 PAs, and about 20 percent of them practice in rural areas.Demand for PAs is high — the profession is expected to grow 37 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More and more students are choosing the PA profession, and in underserved areas with limited access to healthcare, that influx of PAs can help increase access to high-quality care.Wisconsin’s state laws for PAs were written in the 1970s and are currently preventing PAs from doing as much as they can for their patients. Thanks to unnecessary administrative requirements, PAs can sometimes face an uphill battle.“We need an environment that allows PAs and physicians to make decisions about how they can work together for their patients, rather than following an outdated rulebook,” said Tara Streit, MPAS, PA-C, president of the Wisconsin Academy of PAs. “It’s time to modernize PA practice in Wisconsin. I have traveled across Wisconsin and healthcare leaders are in agreement — we need common-sense solutions to these barriers to PA provided care.”Despite these challenges, there are still many things your PA can do for you. With demand for appointments at an all-time high and a nationwide physician shortage looming, some practices have long wait times. PAs can make it easier to get an appointment, and PAs in Wisconsin complete an average of 80 patient visits per week. PAs have thousands of hours of medical training and work collaboratively with physicians, so you can always trust that you’ll receive high-quality care from your PA.

Plus, PAs are trained as medical generalists — they’re trained to treat the “whole patient,” rather than just one specialty area. That means that a PA can help you with other medical issues you might be having, even outside of the reason for your appointment. For example, during an appointment to discuss a heart issue with your cardiology PA, she’s likely to ask about the skin condition on your arm. Then, she can either treat it directly or provide a referral to a dermatology practice.

Ultimately, PAs can benefit patients all across Wisconsin. Whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban area, your PA can provide you with high-quality medical care. Versatile and collaborative, PAs always put patients first.

To learn more about PAs in Wisconsin, visit wapa.org.

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