Healthcare system leans on mid-level workers

By Matt Porter |

Published 08/19 2014 10:54PM

Updated 08/20 2014 09:37AM

ILLINOIS -- Chances are, when you want to see a doctor, you might be treated by someone else. They’re called physician assistants, and they're helping fill the gap for the growing number of people who need healthcare.

Andrew Costerisan works as a physician assistant at St. John's Hospital in Springfield. He can see patients, provide a treatment plan and even prescribe medication.

"Right now, I'm seeing walk-ins,” Costerisan said. “I'm seeing basically anyone who calls in and needs to be seen, but they can't see their primary doctor right away."

Costerisan is part of a growing number of mid-level healthcare workers which include physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners. Both have Masters level education, and their fields are growing as fast as three times the average job rate, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

"The P.A. market right now is exploding,” Costerisan said. “Really the market for mid-levels is excellent."

In Illinois, P.A.'s can practice medicine in any number of ways, including assisting in surgery as long as they work under a supervising physician.

"Even the word 'assistant' is unfortunate,” he said, “because it's more like an associate."

With millions now insured as part of the healthcare law, doctors including Dr. Lee Endsley, of Saint Mary’s Hospital, say these mid-level healthcare workers,  including P.A.'s and nurse practitioners have made up the difference.

"There's no way, when you add 20 to 40 million people in the healthcare system,  that they're going to get taken care of in any kind of prompt timeline,” Endsley said.

As the director of professional affiliations at St. Mary’s, Endsley has seen the growth of mid-level workers at his hospital in Decatur. By taking care of paperwork and basic healthcare needs, mid-levels provide doctors more time to see patients who need their attention most.

He said, while some may be concerned about people with lesser degrees taking a larger role, the proof is in the results.

"I think the only thing that's going to change their mind is when they can see the quality of care is still there,” Endsley said, “and might be even better."

There are almost 90,000 physicians' assistants working in the labor force, and it’s estimated more than 30,000 more will be added in the next ten years.

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