There are not enough doctors in the U.S. to go around. Overworked medical offices are starting to use physician’s assistants in their place.
“If you are the kind of person who goes to a doctor’s office to see the doctor for a prescription or an in-office medical procedure, you might find out that the person writing the script or holding that needle did not go to medical school. While this might work for some people, others are going to be queasy about it,” said Charlie Donahue, a Nashua medical malpractice lawyer with offices in Keene, New Hampshire. “The fact is, they are ‘not’ the doctor, but are shadowing one. One wonders what mistakes could be made with this kind of setup.”
It is estimated that within the next few years, more than 30 million new patients will need medical care. This is one of the results of the “graying” of America, as the population continues to age. Add to that new patients entering the system under the auspices of The Affordable Care Act, and the health care system goes into overload. “Statistics put out by the Association of American Medical Colleges suggest a shortage of 90,000 physicians by the year 2020. To handle the extra work, physician assistants (PA) are being used,” Donahue explained.
“I want to make it clear that there are many very good PAs and nurse practitioners. I have seen many situations where the care given is top notch. Most have more time to give the patient and they are terrific listeners. This trend in medicine has many advantages. The patient needs to make sure these professions have easy access to physicians, and do not let their egos get in the way of your care,” he added.
PAs are not new. In fact, they have been around since 1967, when the first batch attended Duke University. Since then, they have taken part in the health system and have been considered to be a valuable asset to busy doctors. With the impending changes in the health care system, they will likely take on an even bigger role than before.
“There are over 100,000 certified PAs in the U.S. today, and the Department of Labor suggests the number of jobs for PAs will increase by about 30 percent by 2020. Nurse practitioners, individuals with similar training, will also be in higher demand,” Donahue added.
Nurse practitioners and PAs do not go to medical school, but many medical experts insist they are able to take over up to 80 percent of a physician’s duties. Currently, they are allowed to prescribe medications in 50 states, run a doctor’s office when their supervisor is away, help perform heart procedures, and endoscopies. Seeing a Nurse Practitioner or PA costs less than seeing the doctor, making these two professions very appealing to a busy physician.
“While these changes may bode well for patients, they may also result in an increase in medical malpractice cases. With all due respect to both professions, and their expertise, they are just ‘not’ doctors, do not have the same level of training, nor do they have the same range of expertise that a physician has,” said Donahue. Non-doctors may be sued as well, more so since there is a huge disparity in licensing requirements between doctors and PAs.
The more things change, the more they remain the same when it comes to medical negligence.
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