Investigating the contribution of physician assistants to primary care in England: a mixed-methods study

Authors: Drennan V, Halter M, Brearley S, Carneiro W, Gabe J, Gage H, Grant R, Joly L, de Lusignan S.

Journal: Health Services and Delivery Research Volume: 2 Issue: 16

Publication date: June 2014

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3310/hsdr02160

Citation:

Drennan V, Halter M, Brearley S, Carneiro W, Gabe J, Gage H, et al.Investigating the contribution of physician assistants to primary care in England: a mixed-methods study. Health Serv Deliv Res 2014;2(16)


This report was corrected from the original in March 2016. Details of the correction can be found in the Corrigendum document under the downloads tab. 

Journal issues* can be purchased by completing the form.


The cost of reports varies according to number of pages and postage address. The minimum cost for a copy sent to a UK address is £30.00. We will contact you on receipt of your completed form to advise you of actual cost. If you have any queries, please contact nihredit@southampton.ac.uk.


*We regret that unfortunately we are unable to supply bound print copies of Health Technology Assessment published before issue 12:31. However, PDFs are available to print from the "Downloads" tab of the issue page.

Responses

No responses have been published. If you would like to submit a response to this publication, please do so using the form below.

Comments submitted to the NIHR Journals Library are electronic letters to the editor. They enable our readers to debate issues raised in research reports published in the Journals Library. We aim to post within 2 working days all responses that contribute substantially to the topic investigated, as determined by the Editors.

Your name and affiliations will be published with your comment.

Once published, you will not have the right to remove or edit your response. The Editors may add, remove, or edit comments at their absolute discretion.

Post your response

Surname

Forename

Middle Initial

Occupation / Job title

Affiliation / Employer

Email

Address

Other authors

For example, if you are responding as a team or group. Please ensure you include full names and separate these using commas

Statement of competing interests

We believe that readers should be aware of any competing interests (conflicts of interest).

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) define competing interests as including: financial relationships with industry (for example through employment, consultancies, stock, ownership, honoraria, and expert testimony), either directly or through immediate family; personal relationships; academic competition; and intellectual passion.

If yes, provide details below:

Enter response title

Enter response message

Enter CAPTCHA

Security key

Regenerate security key

By submitting your response, you are stating that you agree to the terms & conditions

The online version of this issue is currently unavailable.
The PDF version is available from the downloads section of this page.

Abstract

Background

Primary health care is changing as it responds to demographic shifts, technological changes and fiscal constraints. This, and predicted pressures on medical and nursing workforces, raises questions about staffing configurations. Physician assistants (PAs) are mid-level practitioners, trained in a medical model over 2 years at postgraduate level to work under a supervising doctor. A small number of general practices in England have employed PAs.

Objective

To investigate the contribution of PAs to the delivery of patient care in primary care services in England.

Design

A mixed-methods study conducted at macro, meso and micro organisational levels in two phases: (1) a rapid review, a scoping survey of key national and regional informants, a policy review, and a survey of PAs and (2) comparative case studies in 12 general practices (six employing PAs). The latter incorporated clinical record reviews, a patient satisfaction survey, video observations of consultations and interviews with patients and professionals.

Results

The rapid review found 49 published studies, mainly from the USA, which showed increased numbers of PAs in general practice settings but weak evidence for impact on processes and patient outcomes. The scoping survey found mainly positive or neutral views about PAs, but there was no mention of their role in workforce policy and planning documents. The survey of PAs in primary care (n = 16) found that they were mainly deployed to provide same-day appointments. The comparative case studies found that physician assistants were consulted by a wide range of patients, but these patients tended to be younger, with less medically acute or complex problems than those consulting general practitioners (GPs). Patients reported high levels of satisfaction with both PAs and GPs. The majority were willing or very willing to consult a PA again but wanted choice in which type of professional they consulted. There was no significant difference between PAs and GPs in the primary outcome of patient reconsultation for the same problem within 2 weeks, investigations/tests ordered, referrals to secondary care or prescriptions issued. GPs, blinded to the type of clinician, judged the documented activities in the initial consultation of patients who reconsulted for the same problem to be appropriate in 80% (n = 223) PA and 50% (n = 252) GP records. PAs were judged to be competent and safe from observed consultations. The average consultation with a physician assistant is significantly longer than that with a GP: 5.8 minutes for patients of average age for this sample (38 years). Costs per consultation were £34.36 for GPs and £28.14 for PAs. Costs could not be apportioned to GPs for interruptions, supervision or training of PAs.

Conclusions

PAs were found to be acceptable, effective and efficient in complementing the work of GPs. PAs can provide a flexible addition to the primary care workforce. They offer another labour pool to consider in health professional workforce and education planning at local, regional and national levels. However, in order to maximise the contribution of PAs in primary care settings, consideration needs to be given to the appropriate level of regulation and the potential for authority to prescribe medicines. Future research is required to investigate the contribution of PAs to other first contact services as well as secondary services; the contribution and impact of all types of mid-level practitioners (including nurse practitioners) in first contact services; the factors and influences on general practitioner and practice manager decision-making as to staffing and skill mix; and the reliability and validity of classification systems for both primary care patients and their presenting condition and their consequences for health resource utilisation.

Funding

The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.

Share this page

Email this page
Publication updates

If you would like to receive information on publications and the latest news, click below to sign up.