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October 3, 2019

PAs Deserve a Seat at the Telehealth Table

Guest blog post by Amanda Shelley, PA-C from Physician Assistants in Virtual Medicine and Telemedicine

The explosion of telehealth offerings over the past several years has been great for patients. Millions who suffered a lack of healthcare access due to geography, transportation, or financial challenges can now connect with a clinician to receive care for common conditions, mental health, smoking cessation, and post-surgery check-ins, among other things.

But with primary care provider shortages expected as early as next year, increasing access to patients opens up a new challenge: who will provide that care?

Since 1971 when the American Medical Association first recognized Physician Assistants as medical professionals, PAs have been delivering top-notch care to patients in primary care settings and in every specialty.

That’s why about a year ago, as my colleagues and I watched the telehealth market growing around us, we felt confident PAs had an important role to play. We gathered a small group of PAs already working in telemedicine  to form PAs in Virtual Medicine and Telemedicine (PAVMT), a special interest group within the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Today, PAVMT is 1,700+-members strong, and we work to ensure PAs have a seat at the table as the future of virtual health is discussed and determined. We do this through working with legislators at both the national and state level to assure PA-friendly laws are in place; educating large healthcare systems on the advantages PAs can bring to their care teams; and providing a forum for PAs to share best practices, increase their practical knowledge with CME opportunities, and learn how to get started in the virtual care and telemedicine fields.

PAs, like most professionals—especially those in medicine—are looking for ways to offer patients the very best care while also finding a healthy work-life balance for themselves. Telemedicine holds great potential for them. The benefits of PAs providing virtual care go beyond their own lifestyle interests though. Both patients and healthcare systems benefit as well.

Patients report extremely high satisfaction working with PAs to maintain and improve their health. PAs have a masters-level education in medicine. The training is done in the medical-school model and applicants all have some sort of previous healthcare experience. Admission to PA programs is highly competitive and most incoming students bring an average of 3,000 hours of direct contact with patients.

This powerful combination of face-to-face patient interaction and rigorous education gives PAs a unique ability to relate to patients on a personal and accessible level while providing high-quality care. This is likely why 93 percent of patients surveyed agreed that “PAs provide excellent patient service.”

As healthcare organizations struggle to keep up with patient demand while attracting new patients, PAs are a highly-educated and experienced alternative to historically physician-only practices.. This is especially true as systems expand their services through virtual care and telemedicine, where PAs create opportunities for increased efficiency and cost savings.

In the past year, the PAVMT has taken steps forward in getting PAs in the national conversation about telehealth’s increasing role in care delivery.

  • In early 2019, we worked with AAPA to respond to the Congressional Telehealth Caucus’ request for information as it crafted “comprehensive telehealth legislation for the 116th Congress.”
  • We’ve had conversations with several of the nation’s leading healthcare provider groups, educating them on the benefits of hiring PAs.
  • We’ve worked with states to eliminate the red tape that prevents PAs from participating in virtual care delivery.
  • We’ve supported AAPA in its efforts to drive adoption of Optimal Team Practice (OTP). This approach empowers healthcare professionals to work together to deliver the best are without burdensome administrative restraints.
  • We routinely offer guidance to service providers and other special interest groups that reach out for more information.

But our work is just getting started. Our numbers are growing and our passion is high. Telemedicine is set to explode in the coming years as an integral part of healthcare delivery. PAs are ready to lead in this field and deserve a seat at the table.

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