The effects of Canada’s strained healthcare system is being felt in Saskatchewan in a number of ways.
Some provinces are easing the crisis by implementing physician assistants, something that the provincial government is considering.
According to the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, they could manage 75 per cent of visits directed towards doctors.
Last week the Saskatchewan government launched an action plan aimed at adding 1,000 health-care professionals over the next two to three years.
“We also look at the potential for expansion and integrating new professionals into the system such as physician assistants,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Health Paul Merriman. “Our government will work to expand the pathways and encourage high school students to enter this rewarding career within our health sector.”
Todd Bryden, a physician assistant in Manitoba, spends his day seeing patients, ordering tests and completing any task his supervising physician assigns.
He is considered a highly-skilled health-care professional who can provide a broad range of medical services.
“My broad role is looking after patients, seeing them, in clinics, seeing patients as either consoles or new patients,” Bryden explained.
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The physician extenders has been a term used in Canadian military since the 1950s, and now around 800 certified physician assistants work across Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario.
“Some of the areas that physician assistants can be employed in are immense,” Bryden said. “They are all highly trained and we have diverse backgrounds. The diversity is what sets us apart from nurse practitioners.”
In three physician assistant schools across Canada, only 120 students are enrolled.
“The biggest thing would be getting support from the colleges, because I know with the introduction of a new health care profession there needs to be a regulatory body,” Bryden said.
Adding physician assistants to the Saskatchewan health care system could reduce wait times, increase early discharge rates and reduce doctors’ workloads.
In a statement to Global News, the provincial government said “while physician assistants are not currently regulated in Saskatchewan, they can be employed as an unregulated health care provider.”
“The Ministry is not aware of the number currently working in the province, however, a 2020 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) report revealed that a single physician assistant was working in Saskatchewan.”
They said as part of the Government of Saskatchewan’s Health Human Resources Action Plan, the Ministry of Health has been researching success stories in other jurisdictions which could potentially assist with expanding health care capacity in Saskatchewan, including expanding the number of physician assistants currently working.
“The Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) has formally requested the Government of Saskatchewan regulate physician assistants under the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. We anticipate further discussions about this with sector partners and governing bodies in the weeks to come.”