Health

Physician Organizations Challenge PA Name Change

Several physician organizations are objecting to a recent attempt by the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) to change the name of their profession from physician assistant to physician associate.

Both the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and American Medical Association (AMA) said that the name change could create confusion and put patients at risk.

The AAPA announced the name change on May 24, but the process started at least 3 years ago when they hired a healthcare marketing research firm to investigate the best marketing strategy and title for the PA profession.

Physician Organizations Respond

On May 28, AOA President Thomas Ely, DO, and CEO Kevin Klauer, DO, responded to the name change in a statement, saying that the AOA is “deeply concerned by the potential harm to patient care and patient safety resulting from the erosion of physician-led, team-based care.”

The AOA values “the important contributions” of non-physician colleagues and recognizes the struggle of PAs and advanced practice registered nurses to achieve professional parity, they added. However, these efforts “must not be at the expense of the truth in advertising and clarity of roles in our healthcare system.”

“Professional credentials, titles and how we convey such information to patients is of great import and not a matter of marketing. This title change could easily create confusion for patients and put their safety at risk,” they continued.

Ely and Klauer noted that the AAPA had started pushing toward autonomy for their profession in their 2017 Optimal Team Practice model, which advocated for eliminating legal requirements between PAs and physicians.

The AOA is calling for more collaborative discussion and support for policies “ensuring that physicians, the only professionals with comprehensive medical education and training, are appropriately distinguished from non-physicians,” the statement concluded.

In a June 2 statement to Becker’s Hospital Review, AMA President Susan Bailey, MD, also said that the name change could create confusion, and added that it is “clearly an attempt to advance their pursuit toward independent practice.”

“The AMA has advocated in support of truth in advertising laws and stands in strong opposition to AAPA’s title change. Given the existing difficulty many patients experience in identifying who is or is not a physician, it is important to provide patients with more transparency and clarity in who is providing their care, not more confusion,” she told MedPage Today.

While the AMA “strongly” supports physician assistants in advanced roles within the clinical care team, they are “not a substitute for physicians” and the AMA is “strongly committed to supporting physician-led health care teams,” Bailey said.

“We believe this latest effort is incompatible with state laws and are prepared to work with interested state and specialty medical societies to address any efforts to implement this title change in state or federal policy,” she added.

AAPA Response

On June 4, the AAPA responded to this opposition in a letter posted to its website and shared with several national medical organizations (although the names were not listed). In the letter, they stressed their commitment to collaboration and “patient-centered, team-based medical practice.”

“The new title will help patients to better understand the training and expertise of PAs. Removing the word ‘assistant’ from the title will eliminate a common misconception that PAs simply assist physicians, when in fact they diagnose, treat and care for patients,” AAPA CEO Lisa Gables told MedPage Today.

Rather than creating confusion, the name change will provide “clarity” around the role of PAs on healthcare teams, she explained. Based on an independent investigation into the name change, 71% of patients who were interviewed said that “physician associate” matches the job.

“We respect our relationship with other healthcare organizations and the healthcare team members they represent, and we believe that our common interest — to best serve the needs of patients — unites us and presents collaborative opportunities to strengthen the fabric of America’s healthcare system,” she said.

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