Alberta's physician assistants look to reduce wait times

The Alberta government says a physician assistants pilot project will improve access to health care despite concerns from other front-line medical staff.

Despite concerns, province feels the recently-launched pilot project will be successful

Health Minister Fred Horne was celebrating a new profession in Alberta's health-care system today at the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants’ annual conference in Calgary. (CBC)

The Alberta government says a physician assistants pilot project will improve access to health care despite concerns from other front-line medical staff. 

Some nurses are worried about the lack of regulation defining the PA role. 

"Physician assistants practice with a supervising physician and with different areas of practice in the system," said Health Minister Fred Horne.

He said they can deal with minor concerns to free up the time for busy doctors.

"It is a delegated role," he said.

The 10 positions were created to serve areas of the province with long waiting lists for health-care services.

Horne announced more details about the two-year pilot project during the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants’ annual conference today in Calgary.

The physician assistants will perform routine duties such as taking patient histories and ordering lab tests. 

$3.8-million pilot project

The $3.8-million program began in late August with the hiring of the first physician assistant in the town of Milk River in southern Alberta.

“Our physician assistant has been a great help since he arrived here in Milk River about a month ago," said Dr. Elisabeth Lewke-Bogle, a family physician in Milk River.

"He has been very well accepted in the community and has helped enhance patient care by taking on a number of routine cases that free me up to handle the more complex patients. With a physician assistant in place, it helps create greater access for local residents to receive timely care. It's a positive step.”

The other positions will be located in Bassano, Calgary, Red Deer, Beaverlodge and Edmonton.

Horne says he wants to see the pilot project expand.

"It goes directly to waiting times for people and it allows the physician to provide access to a greater group of patients."

Horne says the program will not affect the province's recruitment of doctors and nurses.

A study done in Manitoba shows physician assistants working in orthopaedics saved their supervising surgeons 204 hours a year.

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