Leah Hampson Yoke: PAs key to improving health care access

By Leah Hampson Yoke, PA-C, MCHS

Maybe it happened to you or a family member or friend. You call to schedule a doctor’s visit to resolve an important issue, only to be told that the next available visit isn’t next week, it’s actually months away.

When it comes to a medical problem, not getting timely treatment can have serious and often life-changing consequences. Whether a patient is seeking a routine appointment or in need of critical emergency care, reassurance that a community health system can provide the diagnosis and treatment for their situation in a timely manner is essential.

To ensure that every patient has access to and receives the quality care they need, when they need it, it is critical that our existing healthcare workforce is able to exercise the full extent of their education, training and experience. Physician Assistants, also known as PAs, are part of this medical team that must be fully utilized to meet the demands of today’s modern healthcare delivery.

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Our healthcare system is facing a “perfect storm.” The demand for medical providers exceeds the supply. More than 96 million Americans do not have adequate access to basic health care and more than 155 million Americans do not have access to mental health care. Adding to these staggering numbers, our country is projected to face a shortage of up to 3.2 million health workers by 2026. Combined with a growing aging population, significant percentages of the US population suffering from chronic diseases such as obesity (42% of adults 20 years and older) and diabetes (more than 37 million Americans), and the ongoing impact of COVID-19, we have reached a turning point.

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America’s more than 159,000 PAs are licensed clinicians practicing medicine in every specialty, setting and state. There are over 3,500 licensed PAs in Washington state alone – each a trusted, thoroughly educated and trained healthcare professional. PAs are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming community health and well-being through patient-centered, team-based medical practice in a variety of specialties and practice settings.

A 2022 study by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) found that more than 66% of patients were being cared for by a PA, showing that the demand for PAs was higher than ever. With more than 500 million patient visits each year, PAs are a critical part of solving today’s workforce shortages that are crippling healthcare, and they are critical to ensuring patients have access to quality healthcare 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 plays an essential role in the sustainability of healthcare.

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Today’s healthcare challenges require modern solutions, and PAs are at the forefront of them. The continued modernization of practice law will enable our patients to have timely access to high-quality care. So the next time you request a doctor’s visit for a health issue, you won’t have to wait months. Instead, you can be seen by a PA.

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

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