Starting in January there will be a new face in the Sturgeon Community Hospital’s operating room, St. Albert’s first physician assistant.
The new role is part of the Alberta government’s $3.8 million two-year pilot project to increase patient access to health care.
“While we continue to actively recruit new physicians to Alberta, we are moving forward to assist doctors on routine matters in high needs areas so that our physicians can free up more time to spend directly with patients,” said Health Minister Fred Horne.
Physician assistants work under the supervision of doctors. Their duties include diagnosis, patient counselling and prescribing certain medications.
The physician assistant being placed at the Sturgeon Hospital will work with a team of surgeons that comprise the upper extremity orthopedic group. This group is unique to the Edmonton region in that they specialize in upper extremity joint issues such as shoulder, wrist and elbow injuries.
The physician assistant will perform patient histories, physicals, assist in the operating theatre, and perform after surgery care.
St. Albert’s physician assistant will be one of 10 throughout the province.
Placement locations were based on predetermined criteria such as patient need and the availability of a supervising physician, explained Tahneen Luedee, a media relations advisor with Alberta Health Services in an email to the Gazette.
The University of Alberta Hospital will have two physician assistants, one in the intensive care unit and one in general surgery. Bassano, Calgary, Red Deer, and Beaverlodge are also scheduled to receive physician assistants.
The project does not propose that a physician assistant will be placed in a primary care setting in St. Albert. However Dr. Darryl LaBuick, president of the St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network, said the idea looks promising.
“We certainly will be looking at opportunities within the primary care network to utilize the skills of the physician assistants to improve primary care and improve access,” he said.
LaBuick explained that unlike nurse practitioners who can work autonomously, physician assistants always work together with the physician as an extension of their services.
“There are some nurse practitioners that have the ability to work independently away from physicians, which is probably not a great way to work in today’s primary care community, simply because we find more benefit working within teams,” he added.
A profession born out the American military during the Vietnam War, there are approximately 300 physician assistants currently working in Canada, primarily in Manitoba and Ontario.
Studies have shown the use of physician assistants have significantly decreased wait times in emergency rooms and urgent care centres.