Qualitative study of employment of physician assistants by physicians: benefits and barriers in the Ontario health care system.
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OBJECTIVE: To explore the experiences and perceptions of Ontario physician assistant (PA) employers about the barriers to and benefits of hiring PAs. DESIGN: A qualitative design using semistructured interviews. SETTING: Rural and urban eastern and southwestern Ontario. PARTICIPANTS: Seven family physicians and 7 other specialists. METHODS: The 14 physicians participated in semistructured interviews, which were audiorecorded and transcribed verbatim. An iterative approach using immersion and crystallization was employed for analysis. MAIN FINDINGS: Physician-specific benefits to hiring PAs included increased flexibility, the opportunity to expand practice, the ability to focus more time on complex patients, overall reduction in work hours and stress, and an opportunity for professional fellowship. Physicians who hired PAs without government financial support said PAs were affordable as long as they were able to retain them. Barriers to hiring PAs included uncertainty about funding, the initial need for intensive supervision and training, and a lack of clarity around delegation of acts. CONCLUSION: Physicians are motivated to hire PAs to help deal with long wait times and long hours, but few are expecting to increase their income by taking on PAs. Governments, medical colleges, educators, and regulators must address the perceived barriers to PA hiring in order to expand and optimize this profession.