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What Role Does a Physician Assistant Play in Disease Management?

Career News August 14, 2013

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, disease management is an approach to patient care that emphasizes collaborative treatment throughout the course of disease and across health care delivery systems. This approach can substantially improve the quality of patient care and play an important role in the treatment of chronic illness such as diabetes. Multidisciplinary teams are best suited to drive disease management programs, since they provide preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic decisions essential to patient care. Physician assistants (PAs) have close working relationships with physicians, and their education is designed in a medical model complementing physician training, which is why they have a key role to play in all facets of Disease Management.

Physician assistants must manage the entire range of a patient’s disease and work towards maximizing functional ability. Treatment of pain is an integral part of disease management for many illnesses such as osteoarthritis, gout and lupus. The role of the physician assistant in these circumstances is to perform disease specific management for pain control and also minimizing discomfort on a daily basis.

In many cases, PAs may order physical or occupational therapy to counteract weakness and de-conditioning, which may exacerbate a patient’s pain. Physiatrists may be consulted in cases where patients are unresponsive to treatment. PAs strive to help their patients maintain the best quality of life possible. The PA’s role often is quite similar to that of his or her supervising physician.

Assessment Tools

Part of the physician assistant role is to use the Visual Analog Scale and the Global Assessment of Functioning to measure a patient’s functional capabilities, assess treatment success and measure improvement in control of disease. The Health Assessment Questionnaire can also help a PA understand more about the patient’s condition. These assessment tools, together with physical examination assist the PA in assessing the patient’s health. It’s also important for the patient to take responsibility for managing their own health, and a PA can help them take an active role in this.

Sample Physician Assistant Employment Opportunity

A recent job opening at the Mayo Clinic requires a Physician Assistant to work with a team along with Family, Adolescent, Pediatric, Primary Care and other health consultants and staff at an outpatient clinic. The role of the PA is to provide preventative, chronic and acute health care services for patients of all ages. Responsibilities include patient evaluation, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, prescribing medication and other treatments, as well as counseling. PA’s can teach patients how to be proactive in their own health care.

American Medical Association Definition of PA Role

The Physician’s Assistant role as described by the American Medical Association is to practice medicine under the supervision of a Medical Doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy. The physician team facilitates high quality health care. PAs make clinical decisions and provide therapeutic care that can be primary or specialty. The PA may also work in a research or educational capacity.

According to May 2011 figures from the U.S. Bureaus of Labor Statistics about 62% of physician’s assistants work in medical offices and about 25% work at general medical and surgical hospitals. Medical practices and hospitals are essential target of Disease Management methodology. Disease Management is becoming increasingly popular. As its use spreads, PAs will assist physicians in their practice as they do in most other aspects of medical care.

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