Canada Needs Physician Assistants

Canada Needs Physician Assistants to Make Health Care More Accessible

Modern medicine is a team sport. Patients aren’t treated by a single physician — they rely on a team of providers to work together and deliver seamless care.

Around the world and in many parts of Canada, physician assistants (PAs) are key members of those health care teams. PAs help drive efficiencies and improve patient access to quality care in family doctors’ offices, long-term care facilities, emergency rooms, surgical suites, and cancer centres.

So, why does Canada lag when it comes to integrating them?

Today, restrictive policy and regulatory statutes are holding PAs back from filling the gap in many provinces. The Canadian Association of Physician Assistants is calling on provincial and territorial governments to integrate physician assistants and start using PAs more fully and use them to help fix some of the issues that have plagued Canadian health systems for years.

To fill the gaps, Canada needs physician assistants

Across country, governments are struggling to do more for patients with less: expand access, improve quality, and cut costs. One solution may lie in the effective introduction of PAs to help enhance care where the need is the greatest.

How could this work? Let’s take a look.

  1. PAs help reduce wait times
  • Adding PAs to primary care teams means that many doctors can offer more same-day appointments and reduce the time patients spend in waiting rooms.
  • In emergency rooms, PAs have been shown to help overstretched doctors, fast-track less complex patients, and bring down key benchmarks like the ‘leave without being seen rate’ and ‘initial practitioner assessment time’.
  1. PAs help improve access to care in rural and remote communities
  • Rural communities, among the hardest hit by doctor shortages, are crying out for more health care providers. Adding multiple PAs in rural communities can have an immediate impact.
  • In a rural practice, PAs can:
    • Provide home, nursing home, and hospital visits
    • Provide direct emergency and urgent care services
    • Perform office procedures
    • Provide after-hours consults and work on-call
    • Improve the continuity of care, especially for patients with chronic conditions.
  1. PAs help improve care for seniors in long-term care
  • In long-term care centres and residential care homes, integrating PAs can help improve key quality benchmarks like reducing annual hospital admissions.
  • With PAs onsite and spending more time with patients, they can perform medication reviews and identify candidates who may potentially benefit from a reduced number of prescriptions.
  1. PAs help gain efficiencies and save money
  • Beyond helping improve the quality of patient care, adding PAs has the potential to save money.
  • The Conference Board of Canada reports that if PAs could relieve more than 30 per cent of physicians’ time in all practice area, this could represent $620 million in cost savings for the health care system.

Common sense says that scaling up a workforce that is proven to work here at home and around the world is a good way to make change happen. Putting PAs with the right skills in the right place to deliver the best care at the right time is an obvious way to improve the health of Canadians.

PAs are changing the face of health care and it’s time to add them to more health care teams across Canada.

Background: What Are Physician Assistants?

PAs are clinicians who are educated in the medical school model and practice medicine under the direct supervision of a licensed physician, often within a multidisciplinary health team. These highly skilled health professionals can work in any clinical setting to extend a doctor’s reach, complement existing services, and help improve patient access to care. A few examples of their key functions include:

  • conducting physical exams;
  • ordering and interpreting tests;
  • prescribing medications and developing treatment plans;
  • providing patient counseling and preventative health care; and
  • assisting in surgery.

Today in Canada, PAs are practicing in New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. Internationally, they play central roles in health systems in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. All of these jurisdictions are investing in PAs because the evidence shows they improve care in a manner that is patient-centred and cost-effective.

A Primer on the Role, Effectiveness, and Value of Physician Assistants

Reports from the Conference Board of Canada provide valuable insight on the role, effectiveness, and value of physician assistants. Learn more: