Physician associates can make a significant impact in tackling waiting lists and improving access for patients in the Irish healthcare system, according to the Director of Physician Associate Studies at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Speaking ahead of the WHO Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, Prof Lisa Alexander said that greater numbers of physician associates and a regulatory framework for the profession would improve both patient care and working conditions across the system.
Physican associates are trained as generalists to support clinicians in delivering patient care in areas such as chronic disease management, rapid assessment respiratory units, virtual clinics and mental health.
The programme to train physician associates in Ireland was developed by RCSI following successful global implementation of similar programmes in Europe, North America and Africa. According to RCSI, these programmes have demonstrated an improvement in the flow of patients through health systems and in chronic disease management, as well as overall cost savings and an increase in patient and staff satisfaction in these countries.
Over 60 physician associates have graduated from the RCSI Master’s programme to date and are working in the Irish health system, with the majority working in hospital or specialised care in the Dublin region. Research on this model of care in Ireland has revealed enhanced patient satisfaction and continuity of care and a high level of job satisfaction amongst the practicing physician associates, added RCSI.
Prof Alexander said: ‘The impactful role that physician associates have had on a number of international health systems became evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. They addressed backlogs across areas including specialist care, preventative screening and GP care, amongst others. In Ireland, they have the potential to make a significant impact on population health in the post pandemic health system by helping to address occupational shortages in areas such as general practice and reducing the backlog that was made worse during the pandemic by improving the flow of patients through the health system.”
She added: “We need to see an increase in the numbers graduating as physician associates and introduce regulation for the profession so that they can work to their full potential across all sectors of across the health system.”