Opinion: Expanding Physician Assistants in New Brunswick will Make Health Care More Dependable

With the Government of New Brunswick recently pledging to undertake a major consultation process and vowing in a news release from January 27th that All options on table as province looks to future of health care, officials are being urged to increase the use of Physician Assistants (PAs) in the province.

In Fredericton, a handful of PAs are being used in the emergency department at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital to extend a physician’s reach, however, they can be used for so much more.

A PA is an advanced practice clinician who is educated in the medical school model and practices medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician with negotiated autonomy, often within a multidisciplinary health team.

PAs help bridge the health care gap by increasing access to family doctors and improving access to care in rural communities. PAs can also help drive efficiencies by providing crucial support for seniors in long-term care, in surgical suites, as well as cancer centres.

However due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of communities are now more pressing than ever before. Yet despite this, the Government of New Brunswick still has an opportunity to improve patient care, save money, and reduce wait times by supporting the increased use of PAs.

During a time when it is critical to deliver quality care more comprehensively and in a timely fashion to keep people out of ERs and the hospital, PAs should absolutely be a part of the solution.

Scaling up the use of PAs by adding them to primary care teams means that many doctors can offer more sameday appointments and reduce the time patients spend in waiting rooms.

With that common sense says that scaling up a proven workforce is a strategic way to make change happen quickly. Using PAs to deliver the best care at the right time is an obvious way to improve the health of New Brunswickers.

Beyond helping improve the quality of patient care, adding PAs also has the potential to save money. A 2016 report from The Conference Board of Canada states that if PAs could relieve more than 30 per cent of physicians’ time in all practice areas, this could represent $620 million in cost savings for the health care system.

Around the world PAs are already alleviating health care systems including in the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, as well as the Canadian Armed Forces. These advanced practice clinicians are changing the face of healthcare in these jurisdictions and it is time to add more PAs in the province of New Brunswick.

About the Author

Ryan Bennett is a practicing Physician Assistant in Fredericton and is the New Brunswick Provincial Director for the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, which is the national voice of Physician Assistants in Canada, supporting quality standards and competencies and helping to establish the profession within the national health care framework.