Gander surgeon calls for use of physician assistants

Gander doctor says use of physician assistants would be a great benefit to patients across province, but especially in rural areas.

Report says use of health care professionals could save millions

Gander orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Russell says the province's health care system would benefit greatly from the use of physician assistants like there are in other provinces. (CBC photo)

A Gander doctor thinks the use of physician assistants can improve the health-care system in this province.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Russell says physician assistants, or PAs, would add greatly to patient care, especially in rural areas.

"We don't really have the plethora of interns and residents and clinical clerks to assist us in our practice," Russell said.

It allows for easier and more efficient patient flow in terms of admission, discharge — they fill a lot of roles.- Dr. Robert Russell

"As well, rural Newfoundland outside the so-called major centres of Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander and Corner Brook are finding it difficult to service these areas with consistent care."

He said it is often difficult for rural patients to find a family doctor who can provide consistent care.

Physician assistants are currently employed in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

Legislation needed

Russell said PAs provide a great deal of help to doctors.

"Essentially they have a background in health care and are quite adept in taking care of a lot of the basic stuff that physicians take care of and are quite good at it," he said.

Robert Russell says physician assistants 'are quite adept' at taking care of a number of basic care needs that doctors have. (CBC)

"If there is anything that is a bit more advanced for their skills then they have the opportunity to present that to a physician."

He said PAs facilitate patient care and take stress off physicians and surgeons. This allows those medical professionals to be more thorough and creates a more efficient workplace.

"It allows for easier and more efficient patient flow in terms of admission, discharges, in terms of surgical assists in the OR — they fill a lot of roles," Russell said.

Last week, the Conference Board of Canada released a report on the use of physician assistants in Canada. That report indicated integrating them into the national health care system could save millions.

Russell said he first presented the idea of using more PAs to government several years ago.

No traction locally, so far

"I first approached our local MHA during the Danny Williams government to look at whether or not it was feasible to enact the legislation to cover these guys' practices," he said. "That fell by the wayside."

He said without the support of the province, the use of PAs here is not likely.

"One of the key things in legislation. It takes either legislation on its own or within the medical services act within the province where PAs would be employed," Russell said.

"There is no real appetite at this point to introduce the legislation to legislate these valued health-care professionals within our province."

With files from Central Morning Show