Physician assistants make up a small but rapidly expanding part of the health care workforce. They are health care professional who practices medicine as a part of a healthcare team with collaborating physicians and other providers and they perform duties including diagnosis and treating illnesses, performing physical examinations, assisting in surgeries, making rounds in hospitals and performing assigned tasks during a procedure. Physician Assistants deliver medical and surgical care in teams with physicians, who provide medical administration and delegate tasks to the Physician Assistant.
The scope of practice for Physician Assistant is set by state laws and regulations, which define the types of services they can provide and the conditions in which they are allowed to provide them. After appropriate orientation and supports, sites, introduction of Physician assistant into family medicine, primary care, and health care delivery should experience the following benefits: increased patient access, increased patient attachment, improved communication and documentation, improved quality of care etc.
In this article, the role of physician assistant would be clearly stated since most Ghanaians do not see the importance of physician assistant in the provision of appropriate health care delivery. Before these roles are highlighted a brief history of physician assistant in Ghana. This profession started in 1969 in our country this was due to the shortage of Physicians in the country and the poor distribution of the health workforce. They are primarily assigned to the rural areas of the country and serve the needs of about 70% of the population. Training of the Physician assistant began at the Kintampo Rural Health Training school which was established by the Ministry of Health. More institutions recently have been accredited to train Physician Assistant in the country they include: University of Cape Coast, University of Health and Allied Sciences, Central University College, Princefield University College, Presbyterian University College, Garden City University College and many more. Currently, there are 2500 Physician assistant in the country, 90 percent of them have been licensed by the Medical and Dental Health Council of Ghana which is the regulatory body mandated to regulate the practice of these health professionals.
CURRENT ROLES IN THE DELIVERY OF HEALTH CARE.
The roles of physician assistant in health care delivery can be divided into clinical roles and non-clinical roles. The non-clinical roles include the following:
Administrative and Management
In many sub- districts in the country, the health team is headed by a Physician Assistant, they ensure day-to-day management of the health centre as well as the supervision of other health stations within the sub-district thus Community clinics, CHPS compounds, urban CHPS, maternity homes and others. They prepare and plan and budget make periodic reports on the activities of the health centre and other health stations in the sub-district, alongside devising improved job methods for increasing efficiency and efficacy in the health centre. Another major role they play is to supervise revenue collection as well as ensuring strict accountability at the health centre. In fact due to the non-availability of funding to the Municipal or District health directorates from the government of Ghana in recent years, the health centers have become the financial backbone of the health service in the municipal or district health directorates.
Education on health issues through community work
The Physician Assistants usually work in health centers which are based at the community level by participating in the outreach community health activities within their catchment area like organizing clean-up exercises through this educate them on the need to keep their environment clean and the importance it brings to their health and well-being this is most effective if the chiefs, elders and opinion leaders of the community are involved in health programmes. They also organize durbar to educate the community on maternal and child welfare, family planning programmes, cleanliness and many others.
Physician Assistant also undertake surveys and researches in the catchment area on various issues including the most common local endemic diseases, their causes, how to prevent them, and also procuring of equipment when there are outbreaks since the trends of these diseases have been studied.
Some of the clinical roles including
- Undertaking confidential patient consultations consisting of: History taking,
Assessment or physical examinations and Diagnosis of their patients.
- Initiate and implement care plan for patients; emergency cases, minor surgical interventions, Obstetrics and Gynaecology cases, paediatric or geriatric cases, chronic ailments, Eye,Ear,Nose and Throat cases, etc. According to their training and proficiency, Physician Assistants also offer primary care to patients with mental health problems and refer as appropriate.
- Assist in surgeries and medical procedures.
In summary, Physician assistants (PAs) make up a small but expanding part of the health care workforce. Their training and education produce a sophisticated but flexible medical professional who can function in many specialty areas and within many practice structures. Because of their adaptability and lower cost, PAs can play an important role in the health care delivery system.
To conclude, Physician Assistants have become one of the most important primary health care providers since they are more helpful and trained to provide most of Heath care services of Physicians. In Ghana, about 70 percent of the health needs of the rural and marginalized population groups is provided by Physician Assistants. The findings of a total of 51 papers revealed that 28 papers had a primary focus on research and specified Physician Assistants in a rural setting. Generally, the literature suggests that Physician Assistants provide cost‐efficient and supplemental medical services to underserved rural populations and that these services are valued. It also appears that rural Physician Assistants possess a larger scope of practice than urban Physician Assistants. This broad range of skills and procedures may be necessary to match the extensive health care needs of underserved rural populations. Thus, there is great need to train more Physician Assistants and resourced them with quality equipment, facilities and infrastructure to enable them operate efficiently.
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Desiree Citsofe Ofori and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.