Ottawa, October 26, 2017—To mitigate the pressures caused by an aging population and a rise in chronic diseases, Canada’s health care system needs to become more cost-effective and innovative solutions are required to ensure ongoing sustainability. Improving the use of physician assistants (PAs) can help alleviate increased demand for physician services, decrease wait times, and alleviate health workforce shortages.
A new report by The Conference Board of Canada offers recommendations for expanding and successfully leveraging the use of PAs in Canada.
“With demand for physician services growing at twice the pace of population growth, Canada’s health care system is facing an uphill battle,” said Louis Thériault, Vice-President, Industry Strategy and Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada. “By optimizing the use of physician assistants, governments can move closer to improving access to timely and efficient health care for all Canadians while working towards overall health system sustainability.”
- Physician assistants can help address many service gaps and health system policy goals.
- Hiring more PAs and properly integrating them into health care teams could save the Canadian health care system up to $1 billion from efficiency gains by 2030.
- Barriers to employing PAs in Canada include funding, regulation and data tracking challenges.
Alleviating demands on a physician’s time generates both time savings and efficiency gains, with the most pronounced increases occurring in areas where physicians’ earnings are higher, such as primary care, emergency care services, and surgical care services. Previous Conference Board research indicated that hiring more PAs and properly integrating them into health care teams could save the Canadian health care system up to $1 billion from efficiency gains by 2030.
Despite the potential cost savings, Canada has a relatively small pool of physician assistants to draw upon, with just under 600 now practicing across the country. The current supply is not sufficient to meet future demand for health services and a lack of stable funding hinders PA employment growth. Other barriers to employing PAs in Canada include regulation and data tracking challenges. The profession remains unregulated across many provinces and territories and developing centralized reporting systems would help governments better understand the overall value, impact, and cost-savings generated by PAs.
To prepare for future health care needs in Canada, educational training program leaders should work with provincial governments to ensure they have a model in place to grow the number of students. Funding caps on training program budgets can limit the number of PAs that programs can train and place. Increasing the number and optimizing the use of PAs in the Canadian health care system will also require a strategy to support the growing network of practicing PAs and sufficient funding for post-graduate career start programs.
This report is the fourth and final installment in a series of briefings that aim to provide an understanding of the role and financial impact of PAs on Canada’s health care system. The previous three reports are titled Value of Physician Assistants: Understanding the Role of Physician Assistants Within Health Systems, Gaining Efficiency: Increasing the Use of Physician Assistants in Canada, and Funding Models for Physician Assistants: Canadian and International Experiences. This series is funded by the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants.