96% of physician assistants (PAs) were employed in a clinical position eight to nine months after the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the 2020 COVID-19 Survey Study Descriptive Report, a new report published by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the flexibility that affords PAs to transition to other specialties and practice settings proved to be beneficial as the nation’s health care providers worked tirelessly to address COVID-19. At the time of the study, approximately 7% of PAs changed specialties, with 4% changing specifically due to the pandemic. Of those, 26% changed to a hospital-based specialty in order to help with increased demand placed on facilities and providers on the front lines of COVID-19.
For patients unable to attend in-person appointments in a hospital, telemedical appointments became a vital option to accessing care. Thus, telemedicine became a significant part of PA practice in 2020, with 61% of survey respondents indicating that they utilized telemedicine during the pandemic compared to just 15% utilizing telemedicine prior. 87% of the PAs that responded indicated that they would not have been able to continue treating patients without the availability of telemedicine.
Despite this, the study found that overall patient volume was impacted by the pandemic, with 45% of PAs reporting a decrease in the number of patients treated. During the same period 54% of PAs reported no change in the number of hours worked.
“We know that prior to the pandemic, Certified PAs provided care to 9.5 million patients per week,” said NCCPA President and CEO Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D., PA-C. “One of the reasons that we wanted to conduct this study was to gather data about the impact of this health crisis in real time.”
The report also indicates that like other health care professions, 12% of PAs experienced furloughs, and 4% experienced layoffs during the initial months of the pandemic. 53% of PAs that remained employed reported that they experienced burnout.
Still, 89% of respondents reported that they feel optimistic about their ability to continue providing care for their patients. Similarly, 82% appreciate the resilience and adaptability of the PA profession, and 35% felt an increased pride in being a physician assistant.
“The role of the physician assistant was created over 50 years ago to help address health care needs during a time of unprecedented demand. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen PAs practicing in their purpose as critical members of health care teams- serving on the front lines and wherever they were needed to ensure access and continuity of high-quality care,” Morton-Rias said. “PAs were made for this moment.”
The study captured the responses of 21,000 Certified PAs in the summer of 2020.