Physician assistants in English general practice: a qualitative study of employers' viewpoints

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Drennan, Vari ; Levenson, Ros ; Halter, Mary ; Tye, Chris (2011)

OBJECTIVE: Effective use of staff is a major aim in all health-care systems both to maximize their impact and to minimize costs. In England, a few general practitioners (GPs) have been recruiting physician assistants (PAs) to work in their practices, independent of any pilot schemes. Our objective was to study the motivation of GPs and practice managers who employed PAs and to understand the factors that sustained their employment. METHODS: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, analysed thematically, was carried out with 13 GPs and three practice managers from 15 general practices employing PAs in five areas of England. RESULTS: All practices were employing USA-trained PAs. Motivating factors for their employment included increasing the general practice capacity to manage patient demand within government targets for access, broaden the skill-mix in the practice team and financial considerations. The issues that needed to be taken into account in employing PAs included: the requirement for medical supervision; the PAs current lack of a regulatory framework and prescribing authority; and some patients' lack of familiarity with the concept of the PA. CONCLUSIONS: General practice employers view PAs as a positive addition to a mixed skill team for meeting patient demand within a practice's finances. There is a need to develop stronger governance and regulatory frameworks for this emerging profession.
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