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The Important Role of Physician Assistants (PA) in a Diabetes Care Team

The Important Role of Physician Assistants (PA) in a Diabetes Care Team

  By: Editors at DiabetesIQ  |  Published: June 15, 2021   
Published: June 15, 2021   

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Physician assistants are one of the key elements in a diabetes care team, and they play an important role in the education, management, and support of patients with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that affects more than 34.2 million Americans, and approximately 88 million American adults have prediabetes. Physician assistants (PAs) are well suited to manage patients who live with type I or type II diabetes because they are skilled at inpatient communication, highly educated, and have to pass a rigorous exam to be licensed in any state.


PAs work within a defined scope of practice and they typically:

  • carry out physical examinations
  • develop and deliver treatment and management plans
  • formulate differential diagnoses and management plans
  • perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • provide disease prevention advice for patients
  • request and interpret diagnostic studies
  • see patients with long-term chronic conditions
  • see patients with undifferentiated diagnoses
  • take medical histories from patients.


Here are some of the ways PAs can provide vital assistance as part of a diabetes care team.

 

Schedule sufficient time 

Since managing diabetes is very time-consuming, many physicians struggle with a lack of time. In most cases, an appointment requires a thorough review of glucose levels, discussion of medication including side effects and costs, and adherence to lifestyle intervention and medication. Moreover, healthcare providers also need to manage lipids and blood pressure while also doing foot exams. By having a PA in a diabetes care team, physicians can make sure that this time-consuming review is thoroughly completed during each appointment.


Enable additional appointments 

PAs increase access to regular appointments for a large number of patients who live with diabetes. Moreover, PAs can also help manage diabetic patients who require multiple days of follow-up and frequent visits, which is typically difficult to manage by physicians who are already overscheduled. Practices that have PAs to follow up on unstable diabetic patients can provide a safety net for patients and improve the quality of care.

 

Keep up to date with the latest developments in diabetes care

Researching the diabetic field is constantly changing. For example, there were only two drug classes available for diabetes in the 1970s, and today physicians can choose from 11 different classes. While the flexibility of having multiple options available for diabetes is excellent news for patients, it's quite easy to become overwhelmed with the numerous developments in the field and followed behind with the updates. Primary care physicians have to deal with so many other things on a day-to-day basis, so having a PA designated for diabetes management can focus on remaining up-to-date with the latest developments in the field, attending conferences, and then applying the relevant clinical updates to patient care. Moreover, PAs can also keep physicians current with the most recent and relevant updates.

 

Offer perspective

With so many options available for treating diabetes, primary care physicians need to have a different perspective and treatment approach. By adding a PA to a diabetes care team, physicians can make sure they have a second set of eyes when it comes to dealing with each patient.

 

Becoming the primary point of contact for patients

Multiple studies have shown that PAs and nurses are becoming a primary point of contact for patients with diabetes. This typically happens as a result of developing new models of primary care practice that involves collaborative teams of various clinicians.

Clinical research has also shown that care that was delivered by PAs to patients living with diabetes was comparable to that of nurses and physicians. PAs play an important role in improving patient-provider communication that typically results in a positive influence when it comes to treatment adherence.


Bottom line 

Physician assistants are advanced practice clinicians who see and assess patients, perform physical exams, formulate plans and interpret investigations under physician supervision. They can also perform procedures and assist in surgery, which makes them invaluable members of a diabetes care team.

While there are some barriers that may prevent PAs from delivering diabetes care, such as not having full prescriptive authority, their role is likely to expand in the near future. This could mean opening more access to quality care for people who are diagnosed with diabetes. Very experienced PAs practice autonomously, which means they require very little direct supervision, which leads to increase patient throughput, freeing up time for physicians to address more complex cases.


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