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In Pennsylvania, among other states, a new wave of healthcare is upon us. Many of us are seen by physician assistants (P.A.’s) and nurse practitioners (N.P.’s) in our primary care offices, specialty offices and even in the hospital. The healthcare industry often refers to this group of providers as “physician extenders.” Physician extenders may see our children in their pediatrician’s office or our spouses and parents in the emergency room.
While physician extenders play an important role in healthcare, they are not doctors. This distinction is important. Doctors must obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree, go through 4 years of medical school and then work through a 3-7 year residency training programs before they are allowed to practice medicine. That’s a minimum of 11 years of training! A physician assistant can complete their training and become licensed to practice in 5 years. The difference in education and training can mean the difference between preventing death or permanent disability by recognizing treatable conditions or not.
The distinction between doctors and physician extenders is so important that in Pennsylvania the law requires physician assistants to tell a patient that they are not a doctor before rendering any medical service to that patient. Physician assistants are required to wear an identification tag at all times which uses the term “Physician Assistant” in easy readable type. The law also states that a “patient has the right to be treated by the physician [doctor] if the patient desires.”
What does that mean for you? When you go to the emergency room or take a loved one there, you or your family member has the right to be seen by a doctor. All you have to do is ask! You can help to make sure you and your loved ones receive the best health care possible by speaking up and being an advocate for yourself and those you love.
If you choose to be treated by a physician assistant, the physician assistant must be supervised by a doctor. The physician assistant can only perform medical services as directed by the supervising doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Does the doctor agree with your plan?” or “What does the doctor think about my complaints?” If you are told that the doctor is busy or will be contacted later, it’s OK to say, “I can wait. I want to know what the doctor thinks.”
The bottom line is, you have the right to be seen by a doctor in Pennsylvania. If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, contact a lawyer who could help. Contact Richards & Richards today by calling 412-261-2620 or contact us online to schedule your case consultation.