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Could physician assistants be the next great solution for senior care in Canada?

Have you ever heard of a physician assistant?

If not, that’s understandable. The role is still relatively new in Canada’s health care system.

Well, kind of.

Physician assistants (PAs) were actually introduced into the Canadian health system more than 40 years ago—when they practiced with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Currently, according to the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA), there are only about 500 physician assistants (PAs) practicing in Canada—with  300 or so practicing in Ontario.

That said, research shows that PAs have the potential to greatly impact the overall health care system—especially where senior care is concerned.

In early 2018, CAPA published a position statement encouraging the provinces to introduce valuable solutions like PAs into its senior care strategies.

Here are some highlights from that position statement:

1.   Physician assistants are not practicing in all provinces.

PAs are part of the public healthcare system in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick; and in the Canadian Armed Forces.

2.   PAs practice independently under the supervision of a physician.

PAs have a body of knowledge that enables them to practice in all clinical settings, and they practice medicine within a formalized physician/PA relationship.

3.   Physician assistants help free up doctors’ time.

Basically, the PA is there to perform duties that could be performed by a doctor, but which can be easily delegated. This frees up the physician to address more complex patient issues. The ripple effect also allows for assessing and treating more patients within a unit of time.

4.   PAs make a huge difference in long-term care facilities for seniors.

Research shows that having a PA onsite providing care can lead to a decrease in hospital transfer rates and readmission rates. As well, having a PA interacting daily with a patient can help reduce the risk of a worsening medical issue. PAs also act as the liaison between patients and other health care professionals, such as psychologists and pharmacists. Finally, they can also be a main contact for family members in palliative care.

5.   Physician assistants can help seniors stay in their homes longer.

More and more, PAs working in primary care clinics are conducting home visits. CAPA states that this can save 1.5 to 2 hours per day of a physicians’ time. By providing homecare services, PAs do overall assessments to eliminate falls and other risks—and act as a liaison to other health care specialists.

6.   US studies point to more benefits of PAs’ impact on senior health outcomes.

Over the last half-century, PAs have become one of the fastest growing segments of the healthcare workforce—with over 100,000 PAs practicing in primary care and virtually every medical specialty. One study shows that introducing a PA into a nursing home can reduce the annual hospital admission rate by as much as 38%.  

For more information

Learn more about the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants here.

Or, read the position statement.