23 C
Niagara Falls
Monday, May 20, 2024
Letter: Physician assistant would enhance health care in NOTL
Letter to the editor. File

 Dear editor:

Physician assistants are comprehensively trained medical professionals who work in collaboration with physicians and other team members to provide patient-centered care.

They can work in any medical specialty, including family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics and general surgery. Within their scope of practice, physician assistants can diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, perform medical procedures and assist in surgery.

So, why does Niagara-on-the-Lake need to implement physician assistants?

NOTL has nearly double the percentage of citizens aged 65 and older at 36.2 per cent compared to the provincial average of 18.5 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data for 2023.

Along with the senior population, the general population is growing exponentially. We see a health care crisis arising with the expanding and aging population coupled with the shortage of family physicians.

Most family physicians in NOTL are either not accepting new patients, relocating to other areas, switching specialties, or retiring.

This makes it difficult for newer residents to find a family doctor.

Some senior residents who have lived in NOTL for years, or who have moved to town for retirement, have been unsuccessful in finding a family doctor, forcing them to make trips back and forth to their previous place of residence, as noted by reporter Julia Sacco in The Lake Report on April 25, (“Room to grow: Niagara-on-the-Lake urged to do more for aging residents“).

This is problematic, especially for individuals with chronic diseases who are now more likely to end up in the hospital due to inconsistent care. Physician assistants can help ease this strain on our healthcare system.

According to the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, in primary care settings, PAs can be used for about 75 per cent of visits without the need to consult a physician.

When doctors were asked about working with a PA, 95 per cent reported that the PA increased their own efficiency in providing care.

Physician assistants allow doctors to increase the number of patients they can treat in a day, which means that more residents in NOTL will receive care.

This will ensure continuity of care, so that those with chronic conditions do not end up admitted.

Senior residents will finally receive care where and when they need it, without having to travel back and forth to their old neighbourhoods. New residents will not have to wait months or years to find a family physician.

The physician assistant profession is growing, with more education programs opening across the province and seat numbers rising in existing programs. There is already more demand for PAs than the number of graduates each year.

Although PAs can work in any specialty, they are trained as generalists and graduates are often drawn to primary care due to the diversity of patients.

There are several funding models in Ontario for physician assistants, including the Physician Assistant Career Start Grant, family health team funding and private pay.

Ontario Health releases the grant annually and it covers half of a PA’s salary up to $46,000 annually for a maximum of 2 years. This grant is available to solo physicians, physician groups and hospitals. Family health teams are not eligible.

As part of its budget submission to the province, health teams can apply for renewable funding for a PA annually.

Lastly, PAs can be paid privately by a solo physician or group of physicians.

The family health team and family physicians in NOTL will greatly benefit from adding a physician assistant to their practice.

Doing so also would help reduce physician burnout and increase the number of patients treated daily.

More importantly, residents would receive more efficient patient-centered care, feel listened to and cared for, and would be less likely to end up in our already overflowing hospitals.

Lara Fluri
Physician assistant student
University of Toronto

Subscribe to our mailing list