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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Leah Hampson Yoke: PAs key to improving health care access

By Leah Hampson Yoke, PA-C, MCHS

By Leah Hampson Yoke, PA-C, MCHS

Perhaps it has happened to you or a family member or friend. You call to schedule a medical visit to address a significant issue, only to be told that the next available visit is not next week, but actually months away.

When dealing with a medical issue, not being able to receive timely treatment can have serious and often life-altering consequences. Whether a patient is seeking a routine appointment or in need of critical emergency care, assurance that a community health care system can provide the diagnosis and treatment for their situation in a reasonable time frame is imperative.

To ensure that every patient has access to and receives the high-quality care that they need when they need it, it’s essential that our existing health care workforce can practice to the full extent of their education, training and experience. Physician assistants, also known as PAs, are part of this medical team that must be used fully in order to meet the demands of today’s modern health care needs.

Our health care system is facing a “perfect storm.” Demand for medical providers is outpacing supply. More than 96 million Americans lack adequate access to primary care and more than 155 million Americans lack access to mental health care. On top of those stagger numbers, by 2026 our nation is projected to face a shortage of up to 3.2 million health care workers. Combined with a growing aging population, significant percentages of the U.S. population experiencing chronic diseases like obesity (42% of adults aged 20 and over) and diabetes (more than 37 million Americans), and the lingering effects of COVID-19, we have reached a tipping point.

America’s more than 159,000 PAs are licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting and in every state. In Washington state alone, there are over 3,500 licensed PAs – each a trusted, rigorously educated and trained health care professional. PAs are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming community health and wellness through patient-centered, team-based medical practice in a multitude of specialties and practice settings.

A 2022 study from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) found more than 66% of patients received care provided by a PA, demonstrating that the demand for PAs has never been higher. With more than 500 million annual patient visits, PAs are a crucial part of the solution to today’s workforce shortages which are crippling health care and they are critical to ensuring patients have access to quality health care when and where they need it. With a projected 31% increase in PA employment between 2020 and 2030, it is evident that the growth of this profession has an essential role in health care sustainability.

Today’s health care challenges require modern solutions and PAs are at the forefront of this. Continued modernization of practice law will allow our patients to receive timely access to high-quality care. So the next time you call for a medical visit for a health issue, you won’t have to wait for months. Instead, you can be seen by a PA.

Leah Hampson Yoke, PA-C, MCHS, is the chief PA for UW Medicine and is a practicing infectious disease PA and clinical faculty member at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Fred Hutch Cancer Center in Seattle.

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