Most physicians don't see PAs as major liability risks

More than 80% of doctors say physician assistants are no more likely to be sued than they are, a survey finds.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted July 6, 2011

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The majority of emergency physicians do not believe physician assistants, when properly supervised, pose a higher risk of medical negligence than other health professionals, says a study published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

The study, based on a 2009 survey of American College of Emergency Physicians members, found that 67.9% disagreed that PAs are more likely than doctors to cause negligence. The same survey sent to ACEP members in 2004 found comparable results, with 71.6% of doctors saying PAs do not pose increased liability risks. The two surveys were based on 724 responses.

The 2009 study showed that 81.8% of doctors disagreed that PAs were more likely than physicians to be sued, a slight decrease from 84.3% in 2004 (link).

Few studies have previously examined physicians' perceptions of PAs and their liability risk, said study co-author James Stoehr, a professor with the Midwestern University physician assistant program in Glendale, Ariz. Researchers wanted to learn how doctors felt about PAs as well as analyze work-force trends among physicians and PAs.

From 2004 to 2009, the number of doctors practicing with PAs increased by 26%, according to the study. The number of doctors directly supervising PAs in the emergency department rose by 19%. A significant correlation was found between perceived risk of medical negligence by PAs and the number of years physicians had practiced with PAs.

"As with the 2004 data, as physicians gained more experience with PAs, their perceived risk of PAs [committing] medical malpractice decreased," Stoehr said.

The survey also asked doctors whether PAs contribute to patient wait times and overall patient satisfaction. Ninety-one percent in 2009 agreed that PAs reduce wait times, an increase of 6% from 2004. Seventy-five percent said PAs increase patient satisfaction, compared with 65.2% in 2004.

Despite PAs being relatively new to the medical scene, it's apparent physicians' opinions of PAs are improving as their relationship grows, said study co-author Mark Hyde, a PA at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.

"The key that we really want to emphasize is the physician and PA team approach [in medicine]," he said.

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