AHRQ Acknowledges 50 Years of Accomplishments by the Nation’s Physician Assistants
By Robert McNellis, M.P.H., P.A., AHRQ Senior Advisor for Primary Care
It was Look Magazine in 1966 that first brought national attention to a new health profession in the United States—the physician assistant (PA). The following year, in October 1967, three ex-Navy Corpsmen graduated from Duke University as the first PAs in the Nation.
Wilbur Cohn, then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, noted the following year that the Nation’s health care system was evolving in ways that would require an adaptable, highly skilled workforce with the capacity to grow.
“Health services in the United States are expensive and complex,” Cohn said. “They have grown rapidly in recent years, but the demand for health services has grown even more rapidly. The result is that providers of health services face demands that exceed the capacity of traditional ideas, methods and institutions.”
He was right, of course. The demands for high-quality, evidence-based health care expanded enormously in the following 50 years. And the Nation’s PAs kept pace along the way—now trained at more than 200 accredited PA programs and representing more than 100,000 professionals in the health care work force.
In a sense, PAs and AHRQ have grown up together. The National Center for Health Services Research—AHRQ’s precursor—was created less than a year after the first PAs graduated from Duke. Today, as they begin their next 50 years together, AHRQ offers PAs numerous opportunities for excelling on the cutting edge of health care delivery:
- Team leaders: AHRQ’s TeamSTEPPS program helps PAs advocate and implement team-based care that moves beyond clinicians “practicing alone together.” PAs in ambulatory care and hospital-based care can benefit from using the TeamSTEPPS to improve team functioning and, ultimately, patient outcomes.
- Patient safety officers: Significant progress has occurred in the past 20 years, but much work is still needed to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. AHRQ’s Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program is a tool proven to decrease healthcare-associated infections. PAs also can use AHRQ’s Guide to Patient and Family Engagement in Hospital Quality and Safety to improve care.
- Quality improvement gurus: AHRQ resources can help PAs lead efforts to assess and improve the reliability of your office testing process. The Primary Care Practice Facilitation Curriculum offers a useful introduction to principles of clinical quality improvement (QI). Modules 8 through 16 provide a basic overview course of QI strategies. Alternatively, you can champion bringing external QI supports to your practice. The Quality Improvement Tip Sheet for Primary Care explains why and how to engage with a practice facilitator in quality improvement activities. Together, you can work with the physicians and other health professionals in your practice to use data and the best evidence to improve the care of all your patients. Implementing these approaches also will help the practice when new payment regulations roll out with MACRA over the coming years.
As we celebrated National PA Week, I would like to congratulate my fellow PAs for 50 years of providing high-quality care. And count on AHRQ for continued support. Now is the time for the profession to look to the future and commit to being leaders in quality and safety. AHRQ can help you explore beyond “traditional ideas, methods and institutions” to build a better health care system that truly provides better care, better health, and lower costs.
This article was originally published on AHRQ Views Blog and is republished here with permission.