If you are involved in the healthcare industry, you are well aware of the prevalence of scope of practice laws, or SOPs. These laws define and specify the tasks (including procedures, actions, and processes) that healthcare providers at different levels can perform. These laws also govern the level of oversight required for specific tasks, and they vary by both state and occupation. Recently, physician assistants (PAs) have begun approaching state lawmakers and governors to seek an expanded scope of practice that would loosen supervisory and regulatory restrictions in terms of the tasks they can perform and the physician oversight needed. This has led to the consideration of New York, North Dakota, and South Carolina to expand their scope of practice laws. Below, we detail the reasons why an expansion of these laws for PAs would be beneficial to the greater medical community and its patient base.
Increased Independence for Physician Assistants
When scope of practice laws are highly restrictive, physician assistants must rely on the availability of physician oversight to complete basic care tasks. Laws that create this type of structure and hierarchy were put in place so that costly mistakes can be avoided, but physician assistants are highly skilled, trained, and capable of providing comprehensive and thorough care without supervision. Physician assistants need to complete two years of college coursework in basic and behavioral studies, followed by a PA program, which often requires prior hands-on healthcare experience. The PA program itself leads to a master’s degree and the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, and once a potential PA is certified, they must obtain state licensing. It is clear that physician assistants go through extensive training in order to earn their position, so they are not under qualified to perform the tasks and processes detailed in scope of practice laws.
Greater Accessibility of Care
When physician assistants are able to do more, and even work independently, the average patient will find that care is more accessible to them. The correlation is clear - allowing PAs to perform more procedures increases the amount of qualified medical professionals across the United States. This gives patients more options and increased availability when they need medical services. The population of the US is aging, which brings an increased need for accessible healthcare. When a small amount of doctors is responsible for a large number of patients, patients face longer wait times for appointments. With a growing demand for healthcare in this country, expanding scope of practice laws for physician assistants would be a positive step towards making healthcare more accessible for all those who need it.
Expanding scope of practice laws for medical professionals also has a cost benefit. For example, cost savings have been evident in states where nurse practitioners have more independence in their work, so an expansion of scope of practice laws for physician assistants would have a similar effect. It is also important to consider the positive implications of expanding SOP laws for others, including clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse midwives. The savings generated by this legal shift extend nationwide. Emergency room use is decreased when there are more healthcare professionals available outside of hospitals, which leads to monumental annual savings in the medical sector.
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