Physician assistants (PAs) may offer an effective way to ensure patients have access to quality mental health care despite the projected shortage of psychiatrists in the near future, according to a poster presented at Psych Congress 2020.
“PAs have historically played a key role in helping to alleviate physician shortages. Given the significant projected psychiatrist deficits to occur by 2024, it is critical to better understand the evolving role of PAs in psychiatric care,” researchers wrote. “However, few studies have explored the role of PAs in mental health care.”
Poster authors tapped workforce data collected by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants to collect demographic information and practice characteristics of PAs working in psychiatry.
The proportion of PAs working in psychiatry has grown by more than 30% since 2014, they found. As of 2019, 1684 PAs, or 1.6% of the total certified PA workforce, worked in psychiatry. Their average age was 43, and 70.2% were women. Most were white (81.1%), 5.9% were African-American, 5.2% were Asian, and 6.7% were Hispanic.
Psychiatry PAs saw a median 60 patients a week; 35.7% worked primarily in an office-based private practice, 21.8% in a behavioral/mental health facility, and 18.2% in a hospital. Nearly 20% communicated with patients in a language other than English, according to the poster. One-quarter of psychiatry PAs participated in telemedicine; the majority of whom did so less than 10 hours per week.
Fewer than 10% planned to retire in the next 5 years.
“Because of the broad-based medical training, PAs are ideally situated to help with the increasing shortage of psychiatrists,” researchers wrote. “As the shortage of psychiatrists continues, the relative growth of PAs in psychiatric medicine may be an overlooked strategy for continued access to mental healthcare for the US population.”