Public Release: 

Increasing number of physician assistants handle more than 190 million patient visits in 2003

American Academy of Physician Assistants

Alexandria, VA - The number of physician assistants (PAs) in clinical practice continues to increase, with more than 50,000 PAs in practice accounting for almost 200 million patient visits and writing over 200 million prescriptions.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) estimates there will be approximately 50,121 people in clinical practice as PAs at the beginning of 2004, according to the newly released Information Update: Projected Number of People in Clinical Practice as PAs as of January 1, 2004. This estimate more than doubles the number of PAs in clinical practice ten years ago. AAPA estimates there were 23,300 PAs in clinical practice at the beginning of 1994.

Approximately 192 million patient visits were made to physician assistants and 236 million medications prescribed or recommended by PAs in 2003, according to the Information Update: Number of Patient Visits Made to Physician Assistants and Number of Medications Prescribed or Recommended by Physician Assistants in 2003.

"With almost 200 million patient visits this year, it's clear that physician assistants have become a significant part of the health care system, providing quality care in all medical specialties," said Stephen Crane, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. "With the intensive training required for the profession and focus on team practice with physicians, PAs have gained widespread acceptance by the public as well as the medical community."

This year, more PAs (33%) practiced in family medicine than any other specialty. These PAs accounted for approximately 38 percent of the patient visits made to PAs during 2003 and approximately 44 percent of the total number of medications prescribed or recommended by PAs during 2003.

"The number of individuals entering the physician assistant profession continues to grow, driven by the fact that PAs are recognized as a solution to expanding access to health care," said Crane. "PAs also prefer to stay in clinical practice serving patients because they are incredibly satisfied with their profession," he added.

In a separate survey taken at the AAPA's annual conference in May 2003, 86 percent of physician assistants surveyed said they would become a PA if they had to choose their career over again, and 95 percent would recommend the PA profession to a promising student.

PAs practicing general pediatrics, family practice medicine, and emergency medicine reported more patient visits per week than did PAs practicing other specialties. The most prevalent disorders treated by PAs in 2003 were respiratory/ENT infections, muskuloskeletal disorders/injuries, allergic disorders, hypertension, and pain management. A full listing of the estimated number of visits to PAs in 2003 by specific disorders is available in the Information Update: Number of Visits to Physician Assistants for Selected Disorders in 2003. All information updates are posted on the AAPA Web site at www.aapa.org/research. Reporters may access additional information on PAs through the AAPA News Room at www.aapa.org/newsroom.

Physician assistants are licensed health professionals who practice medicine as members of a team working with supervising physicians. PAs deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services to diverse populations in rural and urban settings. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications.

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AAPA is the only national organization to represent physician assistants in all medical and surgical specialties. Founded in 1968, the Academy works to promote quality, cost-effective health care, and the professional and personal growth of PAs. For more information about the Academy and the PA profession, visit the AAPA's Web site, www.aapa.org.

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