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Integrating physician assistants into the practice can be key to containing costs, sustaining practice growth, and meeting the demands of a changing healthcare marketplace.
My 25 years in practice have taught me that primary care profit margins are 3% to 5%, which means that a practice has to both grow and contain costs to remain independent and financially viable. Integrating physician assistants (PAs) into the practice can be key to containing costs, sustaining practice growth, and meeting the demands of a changing healthcare marketplace.
I hired our first PA in 1997, and today employ 12 certified PAs who team up with 18 physicians across five locations, soon expanding to six.
We didn’t develop our team-based approach to care overnight, but through collaboration, we developed strategies that have helped us maximize integration of PAs, ensure optimal patient-centered medicine, and become a successful, independent group of physicians.
Our approach has allowed us to grow even in a highly competitive suburban marketplace, where hospitals have been on a physician acquisition spree and where specialists heavily recruit PAs. (According to the National Commission on Certified Physician Assistants [NCCPA], there are currently 96,000 certified PAs, and two-thirds of them are working in specialties outside primary care.)
Nevertheless, we have created a practice environment that both PAs and patients appreciate. This improves employee retention, because being appreciated is the greatest reward we get in primary care. The stability and camaraderie help me and the other MDs in our practice do what we want to do–deliver concierge care without the concierge cost.
Next: Patients are willing to be seen by PAs
PAs help us do that by providing urgent care access six days a week, answering patients’ questions daily via our online portal and providing additional access to care and on-site tests.
Patients are more than ready for greater use of PAs. According to a recent NCCPA survey, prompt access to quality healthcare now trumps almost every other major concern among insured Americans– even the economy. As a result, more than 94% of patients are happy to see a PA, according to the survey.
If you haven’t yet hired a PA in your practice, I would encourage you to consider precepting a PA student. It’s a great way to learn to work with PAs, assess their capabilities, and gauge their fit with your team.
If you’ve been struggling to find ways to remain autonomous or to grow your practice, now is the time for change. PAs can help make sure that change is the kind you want and need.
Thomas E. Bat, MD, is the founder and chief executive officer of North Atlanta Primary Care, P.C. Send your practice management questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.