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Do physician assistants raise the risk of medical malpractice?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is expected to be a shortage of nearly 100,000 doctors by the year 2020, attributable in large part to the aging population and to the 30 million new patients that are expected to seek medical care under the Affordable Care Act. As such, hospitals and medical facilities in Aurora and across the country are already working to determine how they will fill the impending gap between the number of patients and doctors available to treat them.

One group of medical professionals that is expected to make up the difference is physician assistants, or PAs. In fact, with the number of PAs licensed in the U.S. rising by more than 30 percent since 2008, it is likely that many Colorado residents are already being treated by members of this group, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming years. The U.S. Department of Labor anticipates an additional 30 percent increase in physician assistant jobs in the next 8 years.

But the increasing prevalence of PAs has led many to wonder: Does the fact that PAs are not, in fact, fully trained doctors raise the risk of medical malpractice?

Physician assistants are much like doctors in many respects. They can prescribe medications, perform tests and minor medical procedures, and even run medical practices when the supervising physician is not present. But unlike doctors, they do not go to medical school, but are simply required to attend a two-year master's degree program and pass an exam.

Despite this disparity in training requirements, medical industry experts say that physician assistants do not place patients in any danger. Doctors are legally required to supervise PAs and there is only so much medical care that PAs are licensed to provide. And with the pending shortage of physicians in the U.S., it seems that receiving medical care from a physician assistant may soon be inevitable.

Source: MarketWatch, "The doctor won't be seeing you now," Jen Wieczner, Sept. 7, 2012

At our Denver law firm, we help clients who have been injured by medical or surgical errors. To learn more, please visit our medical malpractice page.

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