2011 06 Henry Hooker Yates Role P As Rural Health
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2011 06 Henry Hooker Yates Role P As Rural Health

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Systematic review on the deployment and use of physician assistants in rural health.

Systematic review on the deployment and use of physician assistants in rural health.

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2011 06 Henry Hooker Yates Role P As Rural Health 2011 06 Henry Hooker Yates Role P As Rural Health Document Transcript

  • ORIGINAL ARTICLEThe Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Care:A Systematic Review of the LiteratureLisa R. Henry, PhD;1 Roderick S. Hooker, PhD, PA;2 & Kathryn L. Yates, BA11 Anthropology Department, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas2 Department of Veterans Affairs, Dallas VA Medical Center, Dallas, Texas Abstract Purpose: A literature review was performed to assess the role of physi- cian assistants (PAs) in rural health care. Four categories were exam-For further information, contact: Lisa R. Henry, ined: scope of practice, physician perceptions, community perceptions, andPhD, Anthropology Department, University of retention/recruitment.North Texas, 1155 Union Circle, Box 310409, Methods: A search of the literature from 1974 to 2008 was undertaken byDenton, TX 76203; e-mail: lisa.henry@unt.edu. probing the electronic bibliographic databases of English language literature. Criterion for inclusion was original data published on rural PAs. Each paperdoi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.2010.00325.x was assessed and assigned to the four categories. Findings: A total of 51 papers were identified; 28 papers had a primary focus on research and specified PAs in a rural setting. Generally, the literature suggests that PAs provide cost-efficient and supplemental medical services to underserved rural populations and that these services are valued. It also appears that rural PAs possess a larger scope of practice than urban PAs. This broad range of skills and procedures may be necessary to match the extensive health care needs of underserved rural populations. Over a 35-year period of examination, the literature improved in numbers of PAs studied and the quality of research. However, the lack of longitudinal studies was considered a shortcoming of rural health PA observational research. Conclusions: Through this review, some insights about the role of PAs emerged. Overall, they seem well adapted to rural health. Important issues regarding the recruitment and retention of PAs to rural populations also emerged. Improvement in enabling legislation contributes to the utilization of PAs in America. Key words Acceptance, physician assistants, primary care, retention, rural health care.Physician assistants (PAs) are health care professionals To qualify for practice, PAs must be licensed (creden-trained within the medical model and licensed to practice tialed) in the state where they work. All PAs must grad-medicine under the supervision of a licensed doctor.1 uate from an accredited educational program and passDuring the mid-1960s, the PA emerged in the United a certifying examination administered by the NationalStates in an effort to relieve a nationwide shortage of Commission on Certification of PAs. To work clinicallydoctors in primary care, as well as to increase access the PA must obtain authorization to practice from theto health care for patients in rural and underserved appropriate regulatory board and be supervised by apopulations.2 The number of PAs in America has steadily doctor. Since 2007, all states have enabled legislation thatincreased and as of 2009, there were 148 PA programs sanctioned delegated prescribing by PAs and permittedand over 72,000 clinically active PAs.3 The PA model PAs to prescribe controlled substances.has also been implemented in Canada, the Netherlands, The development of PAs was intended to improveAustralia, South Africa, England, and Scotland.1 health care delivery. There were no preconditions toThe Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association 1
  • Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Care Henry, Hooker and Yatesthis development, but the early creators were strongly “nonphysician provider,” “PA,” and “mid-level provider.”aware of a social mandate to improve access to These search terms were matched with “rural,” “under-care in rural and underserved communities. Conse- served,” “practice location,” “rural health,” and “short-quently, PAs from many of the first education programs age.” To ensure a comprehensive search, we included awent to rural areas in West Virginia, North Carolina, manual search through journals, Internet resources, andColorado, Oregon, and Washington State.1 Almost from bibliographies of retrieved articles. Our criterion for inclu-the beginning, researchers began documenting PAs in sion was original data published on rural PAs. All authorsterms of personality, geographical location, practice and reviewed each paper and assessed its characteristics. Anypopulation characteristics, and economics. However, only level of disagreement was resolved by consensus.a few studies examine the role of the rural PA. Interest Each paper was analyzed, abstracted, and categorizedin this topic is growing because of a shortage of doctors into the following categories:across North America. Since 2000, far fewer doctorshave been choosing rural care or primary care.4 Other 1. scope of practice;countries are also looking at PAs from a rural deployment 2. physician perception;standpoint.5,6 3. community perception; In 1977, the US Congress enacted the Rural Health 4. retaining and recruiting rural PAs.Clinics Act (Public Law [PL] 95-210), which among otheractions, encouraged the use of PAs, nurse practitioners Results(NPs), and certified nurse midwives in rural areas sincemany small communities could no longer support a A total of 51 papers were identified and reviewed.sufficient number of physicians. PL 95-210 facilitated Twenty-eight papers met the criterion of a primary focusrural health expansion by entitling various providers to on research and specified PAs in a rural setting. Arti-receive reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid on cles that lacked original data, editorials, and nonspecifica cost basis. However, after four decades, information on articles that were outside the objectives of the reviewthe PA’s role in rural health remains fragmented from were omitted. Informative literature regarding the PA’sa national standpoint. What is the accumulative role of history and role in rural health care was omitted fromPAs and NPs in rural health? Our intent is to identify, the summary table (see Table 1), but it was included inappraise, select, and synthesize the research evidence the discussion and references.about 1 type of provider. We purposely focus on PAs The span of the literature review was from 1974 tobut include references to NPs where appropriate. The 2008. Two-thirds of the papers were published afterrationale is that the PA is trained in the medical model 1989. An increasing trend in both the number of pub-and is in a dependent relationship with an employing lished studies and the size of the population studied wasphysician. NPs, on the other hand, are sanctioned to work observed over the 35-year study period. Some of theindependently in many states, which distinguishes them research was centered on a state or geographical region,from PAs, and their role may be different. with other studies being national in scope. Overall, the methodology employed was broad: 17 surveys, 8 inter- views/focus groups, and 4 secondary analyses of largeObjective databases. A few of the papers overlapped in method-The primary objective was to perform a review of the ology (eg, survey and interview). The manuscripts wereliterature in order to evaluate the factors that contribute published in peer-reviewed journals: 10 in The Journalto the assumed role of PAs in rural practice locations. of Rural Health, 5 in the Journal of the American AcademyThe secondary objective was to identify any relationship of Physician Assistants, and the remainder spread over 12among those factors that influence the retention and other journals.recruitment of PAs in rural practice. Scope of PracticeMethods “Scope of practice” is terminology used by state licensingA search of the English-speaking literature was under- boards for PAs as well as many other professions. Thetaken spanning the years 1966 to 2009. We employed the term generally defines the limit to which the law, ancomputer bibliographic databases of MEDLINE, Google organization, or an employer permits the PA to provideScholar, and the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Al- care, procedures, actions, and processes. The experiencelied Health Literature (CINAHL). Key search terms in- and competency of the PA helps to define the scope ofcluded “physician(s) assistant,” “physician(s) extender,” practice.12 The Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association
  • Henry, Hooker and Yates Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health CareTable 1 Public Papers on Rural Health Physician Assistants Target PopulationFirst Author Year Reference# Journal Location Year Studied Methods Number Studied Results 13 ∗Anderson (1999) J Rural Health Nationwide National Hospital PAs and NPs—N/A Describes the 1994 Ambulatory Medical cost-effectiveness of Care Surveys PAs in rural practice 1994Asprey (2006)18 J Physician Assist Rural Iowa Mailed survey PAs in rural primary Identifies the PAs most Educ 2002 care practice—94 frequently performed skills in towns with <10,000 peopleBaldwin (1998)25 Public Health Nurs Rural Midwest 1996 Five focus groups Rural community Describes the members per focus community group—4-9 perceptions of rural PAsBergeron (1997) 23 J Rural Health Rural Minnesota Mailed survey Physicians—277 Reveals the positive 1995 and negative perceptions of MDs regarding the role and practice of rural PAsBergeron (1999) 10 J Rural Health Rural hospitals in the Mailed survey and Rural hospital Discusses the tasks United States case studies administrator—285 and benefits related 1995–1996 Hospitals observed in to PAs in small rural a case study—36 hospitalsBurgess (2003)21 J Rural Health South Carolina Mailed survey Rural and urban Reveals the positive 2001 primary care and negative physicians—681 perceptions of MDs regarding the role and practice of rural PAsChumber (2001)9 J Allied Health Wisconsin 1997 Mailed survey PAs, full-time and PAs who practice in part-time—433 rural communities have a high degree of practice autonomyFord (1998)11 J Am Acad Nurs Family practice residency Semi-structured Physicians in a family Reveals the positive Practitioners program in the interview/ practice residency and negative Southeast United Qualitative program—10 perceptions of MDs States 1996 methodology regarding the role and practice of rural PAsGairola (1982)38 J Commun Health Kentucky 1982 Mailed survey PA graduates from the Discusses PA University of characteristics that Kentucky’s Clinical relate to location Associate Program decisionsHenry (2007)12 J Rural Health Eight rural towns in Texas Direct observation, PAs, town mayors, Describes factors 2005 semi-structured and town contributing to the interviews, and representatives—8 retention of rural focus groups PAsHenry (2008)26 J Physician Assist Eight rural towns in Texas Direct observation, PAs, town mayors, and Describes factors Educ 2005 semi-structured town contributing to the interviews, and representatives: 8 retention of rural focus groups Average focus PAs group—8 ContinuedThe Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association 3
  • Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Care Henry, Hooker and YatesTable 1 Continued Target PopulationFirst Author Year Reference# Journal Location Year Studied Methods Number Studied Results 20Hooker (2005) J Rural Health Nationwide Data drawn from Physicians, rural and PAs more likely to 1997-2002 6 years of National urban—2,500 prescribe controlled Ambulatory Medical substances than Care Surveys on NPs or physicians; prescribing trends PAs wrote fewer prescriptions than NPs in rural areasIsberner (2003)16 Perspect Physician Rural Illinois Mailed survey Rural physicians—226 Reveals the positive Assist Educ 2000 and negative perceptions of MDs regarding the role and practice of PAsKrein (1997)15 J Rural Health Eight Midwest states Telephone interviews Hospital Identifies 1994 administrators— characteristics of 407 rural PA practice and employers’ hospitalsLarson (2007)28 J Allied Health Nationwide 1967-2000 Data from the AAPA PAs working in Discusses how trends supplemented with the United in practice data from the ARF States—49,641 specialization and education affect retention and recruitingLarson (1999)29 J Rural Health Nationwide Mailed survey PAs – 1,521 Verifies a health care 1993-1994 shortage in rural practice locations and discusses retention and recruitmentLegler (2003)30 Perspect Physician Pacific Northwest Results from funded PA students/whole Reveals methods of Assist Educ 1999–2002 project community—35 rural recruitment and retention of PAsLindsay (2007)34 J Rural Health New York and Semi-structured PAs, NPs, and nurse Reveals the role of Pennsylvania 2003 interviews anesthetists—55 gender in PA location decisionsMartin (2000)8 J Am Acad Pennsylvania 1996 Mailed survey PAs—1,002 Describes differences Physician Assist (Dillman’s total between PAs in rural design method) and urban practice 1996Muus (1998)36 J Rural Health Nationwide 1996 Mailed survey Rural PAs—1,263 Describes the relationship between job satisfaction and rural PA retentionMuus (1996)37 J Am Acad AAPA membership Mailed survey Primary care PAs Discusses the Physician Assist database 1994 2,500 surveyed; implications for 1,534 responded recruitment by comparing urban and rural PAsNelson (1974)27 JAMA Eighteen practices in Mailed survey Patients—449 Describes the upper New England community 1972 perceptions of rural PAs in upper New England Continued4 The Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association
  • Henry, Hooker and Yates Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health CareTable 1 Continued Target PopulationFirst Author Year Reference# Journal Location Year Studied Methods Number Studied Results 24Oliver 1986 Physician Assist Midwestern rural Questionnaire Patients—308 Describes the communities 1985 distributed PAs—11 community following visit perceptions of rural PAs in Midwestern communitiesPan (1996)35 Hosp Health Serv Nationwide 1993–1994 Mailed survey Members of American Discusses the factors Adm Academy of that relate to PA Physician retention and Assistants—1,560 recruiting in rural responses practiceShi (1993)14 J Rural Health Nationwide 1991 Mailed survey and Community and Reveals patterns of telephone migrant health retention and interviews center recruitment among administrators— community and 243 migrant health centersStaton (2007)22 J Am Acad Nationwide survey Weighted logistic Retrospective Analysis Discusses the Physician Assist 1997-2003 regression analysis of National contributions of PAs Ambulatory Medical to rural health care Care Survey and the issues that Data—N/A contribute to their retentionTravers (1996)39 J Am Acad Communities in Maine Mailed survey, Former rural PAs 25 Reveals reasons for PA Physician Assist with populations telephone interview departure from rural <10,000 1988-1990 practice∗ N/A, not applicable. Eleven papers discussed PA scope of practice in rural departments, surgeries, and during inpatient rounds, andareas. Generally, there is consensus within the literature they had admitting/discharge privileges.10,15,16regarding the autonomy and scope of practice for rural The literature identified many tasks performed by ruralPAs. Larson and associates observed that Medex-trained PAs. The most common duties observed included pre-PA graduates from rural Washington State spent less time natal/postpartum care, house calls, night calls, nursingwith their supervising physician and had a broader scope home rounds, and athletic team coverage. Other activ-of practice than their urban cohorts.7 Martin validated ities noted involved follow-up care for patients, rou-Larson’s work studying Pennsylvania PAs. He found that tine administrative duties, ordering routine laboratorycompared to urban PAs, rural PAs spent more time with tests and radiological studies, recording patient histories,patients clinically, saw more patients on a daily basis, patient education, counseling, routine physical exams,and had more patients for whom they were the principal diagnosing common illnesses, and performing minorprovider. The authors thought that the PAs profiled were surgical procedures.7,10,11,15-18 Historically, the illnessesmore likely to work in underserved areas than their and procedures attended to by rural PAs were generallyurban counterparts.8 considered commonplace and not critical.19 In the 1970s, The most common type of practice for a rural PA is Pacific Northwest patients in need of acute care tendedprimary care.7-12 The most represented practice settings to be seen by the supervising physician.17 Researchersin these studies were a solo physician’s private practice observing PAs in the 1970s noted that written guidelinesor a small group practice clinic.8,10 The federal govern- and/or protocols were used with patients in makingment also employs rural PAs.7,13 Typical government- clinical decisions.11 Later, protocols gave way to bestsponsored sites included community health centers, mi- practices and evidence-based medicine standards of care.grant health centers, Indian health centers, and prison One study suggested that the delegated scope of prac-systems.7,14 Krein’s study of northern states indicated that tice, at times, might have been exceeded by PAs whomore than 50% of rural hospitals utilized PAs.15 Within were under pressure to increase patient volume or makethese hospitals, most PAs provided services in emergency decisions alone when their supervisor was unavailable.The Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association 5
  • Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Care Henry, Hooker and YatesBergeron et al suggested that the PA might be encouraged and constraints associated with employing a PA in ruralto exceed his or her scope of practice for patients who fail practice.to differentiate between PAs and physicians. The authorssuggested that exceeding a defined scope of practice Reasons for not hiringmight lead to clinical error, which puts the patient’shealth at risk and increases a physician’s liability for Some physicians expressed that PA employment wouldmalpractice.10 increase their liability.10,16,21 Another important issue was Prescriptive authority is mentioned frequently the time and effort (or the perception of it) requiredthroughout the literature as a critical aspect of the to supervise and delegate.10,21 Theoretical issues raisedscope of practice. The ability to prescribe is especially among respondents to some survey questions includedimportant for PAs in rural practice due to the limited opposition from patients, increased competition for pa-availability of supervising physicians. Chumber et al. tients, decreased quality of care, confusion between thefound that the rural PA’s years in practice with their providers and their delegated roles, and loss of continuitysupervising physician were inversely associated with of care.10,14,16,21greater autonomy in terms of routine prescriptive Incentives for PA employment included positive con-ability. The researchers believed that their findings tributions to quality of care, patient education, and freed-implied a significant relationship between the age of up time for physicians, which in turn relieved work-the supervising physician and amount of prescriptive load. Additionally, PAs enabled the physician to focusauthority that they delegated to their PAs.9 on more complex cases.10,11,16,21 More tangible economic considerations included cost-effectiveness, increased pa- “Physicians who first employed PAs, particularly in tient volume, reduced patient wait time, and increased rural areas, tended to be older physicians, a group patient satisfaction.10,11,13-16,21,22 Burgess suggested that who typically did not have training or experience physicians highly receptive to PAs often delegated a in practicing with PAs. Thus, these older physicians broader scope of practice to their PAs when compared to did not delegate as often or at all. Conceivably, it those who were less receptive.21 is the younger physicians, who perhaps went to The early literature suggests that there were mixed school with PAs, who are more likely to delegate feelings among physicians about PAs and their role in responsibilities.”9 rural health care. Some felt that they played a “vital role” A 1997–2002 national study found that, proportion- and were very useful in the hierarchy of care, whereasally, rural PAs write fewer prescriptions than their super- others viewed them as a burden.16 Some unreceptivevising physicians do. However, they are more likely to physicians also indicated that they were confused by theprescribe a controlled substance when given the right to ambiguity of the PA’s role and were unsure of theirdo so. The researchers hypothesized that this trend may capability as a provider.14,21 Rural Minnesota physicianshave resulted from PAs having more on-call hours where who responded to a mailed survey in the mid-1990sthey were available to patients in need of urgent care. In considered the most important duties of the PA as thosethese emergencies, controlled substances may have been that were routine and required fewer diagnostic skills.frequently required for treatment.20 This same study also identified opposition to laws that In general, the rural PA’s role includes a scope of permitted PAs to establish their own practice.23 Southpractice that enhances health care delivery. Utilizing Carolina physicians responded that the lack of prescrip-a PA appears to be cost-effective in numerous set- tive authority impeded PAs’ service in rural areas.21 Intings.10,11,13-16,21,22 PAs also appear to supplement care studies since the late 1990s, attitudes have shifted andprovided by physicians.10,15 The literature indicates that physicians seem to believe that PAs possess the necessaryPAs decreased the time patients spent waiting for an ap- skills and knowledge to provide basic care, to diagnose in-pointment, spent more time with patients, and increased dependently, and to treat stable health care conditions.21overall patient volume.10,15,21 Generally, it seems that rural physicians accept PAs and recognize many benefits associated with their role. This acceptance seems to have grown with each survey year.Physicians’ Perceptions of Rural Health Some of the early researchers speculated that doctorsPhysician Assistants might benefit from education about a PA’s capabilities asA physician’s perception of what PAs can do appears to a provider. Bergeron and associates suggest that educat-be important in a rural setting. Not only does it affect the ing potential employing doctors about PAs could preventPA’s job satisfaction, it influences how physicians utilize role confusion and assist in delegating an appropriatePAs. Nine papers discussed issues surrounding incentives scope of practice.236 The Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association
  • Henry, Hooker and Yates Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health CareCommunities’ Perceptions of Physician concerning the personal factors listed above.27 However,Assistants when questioned about their satisfaction with the com- munity’s health care in general, rural residents in theA community’s perceptions concerning PAs in rural prac- Pacific Northwest believed that improvements could betice can influence the pattern of PA utilization within made.30 For those communities utilizing autonomousthat area. Eight publications addressed the perceptions PAs, residents expressed a desire for the availability ofof patients. The majority of rural residents felt most health care that was outside of the PA’s scope of prac-comfortable with the PA providing simple treatments and tice.29,30 In the aggregate, the literature suggests thatminor procedures.12,24 Some residents chose to commute a high level of patient acceptance tends to be associ-out of their area, in spite of the distance, in order to see a ated with familiarity and exposure resulting from thedoctor with whom they were already established.10,12 The retention of PAs within the community. Satisfaction andreasons for doing so generally included a critical health acceptance by town residents were lower where thecondition that required a specialist, a long-term relation- PA commuted in and out of the community for workship with a specific provider, or a lack of confidence in and spent little time participating in the communitythe PA’s ability to provide for their needs.12 life.12,27,29,30 Four articles employing qualitative research methodsindicated that many community members tended to beunaware of the PA’s capabilities and role within a rural Retaining and Recruiting Rural Physicianpractice.10,12,25,26 In some instances, there were patients Assistantswho failed to distinguish between physicians and PAs.23 Trends in education, specialty, health care, and com-This lack of knowledge or understanding might need the pensation are key reasons for the loss of rural healthattention of the rural medical community.10,25,26 Some providers. Recruiting and retention of valued personnelpatients suggested various means of incorporating PAs is at the heart of organizational efficiency. If the personinto the rural community and educating their fellow recruited fits into the culture of the organization (ortownsfolk about the PA’s potential as a health care community), he or she will be welcomed. If the workprovider. situation is conducive to retention, the person will re- Rural residents suggested certain conditions that the main. Understanding the issues that affect patterns of PAPA would have to meet before being accepted into the retention and recruiting among underserved rural popu-community as a viable health care provider.25,26 These lations becomes challenging as lucrative opportunities inconditions included both personal and system-related urban areas increase. Fifteen papers addressed aspects ofissues. Personal issues identified within the community retention or recruitment of rural PAs.included friendliness, competence, a willingness to par- In 2009, 15% of all PAs in the United States reportedticipate in the community’s lifestyle, trustworthiness as working in a nonmetropolitan area and 8.2% of PAsa provider, and knowledgeable and easy to understand worked in micropolitan areas of 20,000 or fewer peo-during clinical consultation. System-related issues in- ple.3 PAs and NPs are proportionally more likely thancluded the type of services they offered, the ease of primary care doctors to practice in these nonmetropoli-integrating them into the existing health care system, the tan areas.21,27,30-33 Factors that encourage retention andlength of wait time for an appointment, the geographic recruiting include a high degree of practice autonomy,proximity to the PA’s clinic, and the time allotted for a a broad scope of practice, and liberal prescriptive au-single appointment.12,22,24-26 Most of the literature sug- thority.10,12,34-37 Other factors discussed by PAs includegested that PAs and the rural medical community gener- the desire for a small-town community lifestyle, a goodally meet the personal and system-related conditions that relationship with the supervising physician, and thecommunity members set. confidence to practice medicine without the constant Trends in the literature revealed several socio- presence of a physician.12,35,37demographic issues that relate to the acceptance of PAs in A number of studies identified certain factors of ruralrural communities. Female residents within a small town, practice that discourage the recruitment and retentionfor example, were generally more comfortable visiting of PAs. The most frequently mentioned reason that PAsa PA than were males. It also seemed that a patient’s leave rural health care was professional isolation.34,35,38degree of education and amount of previous experience For example, most rural communities do not providewith PAs positively correlated with their acceptance and opportunities for PAs to further their education or workcomfort level.27-30 in specialty practice.35,39 The remote location may also Generally, those living in small towns have a high limit career opportunities for the PA’s family. Addition-level of satisfaction with PAs in rural practice, especially ally, some studies suggested that lower salary and longThe Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association 7
  • Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Care Henry, Hooker and Yateson-call hours might be factors for PA retention in rural care makes PAs susceptible to demands different frompractice.35-37 metropolitan colleagues. The most commons stressors are A lack of medical equipment, technological advance- the lack of readily accessible medical education opportu-ment, and pharmacy availability were items identified nities and isolation from peers. Concern was noted thatas other sources of frustration for rural-practice PAs.12,35 PAs must sometimes step outside of their delegated scopeDissatisfaction occurs when it is necessary for patients of practice in order to fulfill the needs of patients in a ruralto travel to distant hospitals for X-rays, laboratory tests, setting, which can be taxing to the PA’s sense of role.and medication. Aside from practice-related issues, social Demand for medical services and familiarity with theisolation also deters PAs from committing to rural areas.39 PA in America has largely improved acceptance by em- Gender has become an increasingly important aspect ployer and patient alike. However, we suggest there willof medical workforce research. A shift in gender has always be a small percentage of doctors and patients whooccurred in medicine, along with many other professions. will not accept a PA.This is especially true for PAs, with females making up The health care needs of rural Americans are increas-60% of the national cadre.1 Historically, women have ing, and the shortage of primary care physicians remainsbeen less likely to choose a rural practice setting or to a concern. It is estimated that over 85% of a familyleave an urban location to practice in a rural area.28,38 medicine doctor’s work could be managed by 1 PA. Such Literature on medical practice location suggests that task transfer permits the doctor more longitudinal carePAs are more likely to practice in locations similar to and the opportunity to take on new and more interestingwhere they have lived. For example, a PA raised in a tasks.1rural area is more likely to feel comfortable practicing Rural health care offers a distinctive work environmentthere.12,29,30,35 Some of the authors suggest that recruiting for PAs. The clinics where they work tend to be smallPA students from rural populations may increase the and the range of services large.40 They are more likelyoverall number of PAs practicing in underserved areas. to be in primary care than their urban counterpartsThese suggestions may be important considering that PAs and are proportionally more likely than doctors to bewith high levels of rural practice location stability tend to in rural or underserved areas.31 These observations havecome from rural areas.28 policy implications that may resonate in certain rural Another important finding suggests that PAs with lim- states where the ratio of doctor to population is dwin-ited academic history prior to PA training were more dling. Since 2009, federally qualified rural clinics havelikely to move to primary rural care. This may be par- been bolstered by new initiatives designed to improveticularly true for Alaskan Natives returning to Alaska to staffing arrangements and delivery of services (http://work in rural areas.28,36 The same researchers noted that www.hhs.gov/recovery/hrsa/healthcentergrants.html).a PA’s level of education prior to PA training is inversely Efforts to retain and recruit PAs must take into accountrelated to their likelihood of choosing rural practice.28,36 the unique role of rural health care, and provide oppor- tunities for practitioners that complement and enhance the satisfying aspects of their role. Community outreach through Area Health Education Centers that fosters theDiscussion role of rural practice may benefit PA programs. FinancialReviewing the literature on the role of PAs in rural incentives through the National Health Service Corps,practice provides a number of important observations. loan forgiveness, education grants, and tax incentives areGenerally, the literature suggests that PAs are a cost- examples of federal and state initiatives designed to retainefficient supplement to medical service where this is health care workers.centered on underserved rural populations, and that There are contradictions within the literature regardingthese services are valued. It also appears that the rural patient acceptance of PAs. Some of this lack of acceptancePA possesses a larger scope of practice than that of his is generational and some of it has faded with 4 decadesor her urban counterpart.40 This broad range of skills of familiarity. However, the medical community mayor procedures may be necessary to match the extensive be able to play an important role in changing negativehealth care needs of underserved rural populations. Such patient perceptions through education about the com-diversity of medical care services may be appealing to petent and high-quality care that PAs are trained tothose in rural health. Furthermore, it appears that PAs provide, followed by careful integration of the PA into theare generally welcomed in rural communities, and they rural practice site. Community perception is also relevanttend to do well if they are integrated into the community. to PA job satisfaction and retention. When PAs are The long on-call hours and highly autonomous clini- accepted and respected by the residents and integratedcal practice that characterize remote community health into the community’s lifestyle, their job satisfaction and8 The Journal of Rural Health 00 (2010) 1–10 c 2010 National Rural Health Association
  • Henry, Hooker and Yates Role of Physician Assistants in Rural Health Careprobability for retention are higher. Community mem- with PA job satisfaction and retention. Yet, retaining andbers may benefit from learning about the PA’s role, how recruiting PAs remains challenging.that role can supplement their health care needs, and In the aggregate, the literature is sufficient to generalizehow important their perceptions and attitudes are in that PAs appear to be a good fit for rural practice, atretaining these providers. least in America. They seem to be well-received, fit into The qualitative methodologies utilized in several stud- the community, and are productive. Physician receptivityies are useful in understanding the opinions of commu- to PAs is high as well. In addition, rural communi-nity members and supervising physicians. It may be that ties desiring medical staff for their clinic may benefitcommunity members and physicians respond fully and from successful strategies that attract and retain medicaltruthfully during intimate interviews/group discussions, providers such as PAs.but they do not share the same opinions with the med- It is difficult to predict if the distribution of theical staff and researchers’ surveys. We recommend that nonmetropolitan PA will grow with changes in healthresearchers consider the advantages of multi-community, care reorganization. Under current scenarios, we suggestlongitudinal, qualitative research in rural areas. This type that the PA role will continue to expand to meet theof research may provide a more precise understanding of demands of an aging rural population, but improvedPAs and aid in their retention. access to health care is less predictable. As new methods for treatment become available, financing improves, and technology is more accessible for clinicians, interest in relocating to a small community may become moreLimitations attractive. However, efforts to recruit and retain rural PAsThe limitations of this literature are characteristic of many will benefit from research that distinguishes the enablerssystematic reviews: the breadth of the subject is wide and barriers to such human capital resources.and depth is limited. This rural PA literature reviewspans 35 years, and while it shows the evolution of the Referencesrole and acceptance of PAs in American rural health,the daily characteristics of PAs are not well delineated. 1. Hooker RS, Cawley JF, Asprey DP. Physician Assistant:Longitudinal studies are nonexistent and even two time Policy and Practice (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis;points of sampling the same PA or community are 2010.lacking. Another limitation is the lack of the narrative 2. Cawley JF, Hooker RS. A brief overview of physicianpiece that anthropologists and sociologists can bring; assistants in the United States. Advisor: NAAHP.more qualitative studies are needed. Such studies that 2005;25:6-10.are backed up with characteristics of locations where 3. American Academy of Physician Assistants. AAPA Physician Assistant Census Report: 2009. Alexandria, VA:provider retention is highest and compared to those American Academy of Physician Assistants; 2009:1-15.locations where a community’s retention is problematic 4. Goodman D, Grumbach K. Does having more physicianswould be useful for recruitment strategies. Not only could lead to better health system performance? JAMA.additional well-developed longitudinal and qualitative 2008;299:335-337.studies be enlightening to American policy makers, but 5. O’Connor TM, Hooker RS. 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