How The ‘Patient-As-Consumer’ Dynamic Impacts Health Care And The Role of Physician Assistants

physician assistants treating patients as consumers

Today’s patients want to make health care decisions on their terms—just as any consumer would. But does the patient-as-consumer dynamic have any place in the clinical care setting? 

Patients are now more knowledgeable and technology savvy. They desire more control over their care, as well as high-quality experiences. Therefore, medical professionals like physician assistants face patients’ higher expectations.

The following details about the role of physician assistants are used to examine whether recognizing patients as consumers in the trillion-dollar health industry serves any benefit in clinical care.

Physician Assistant-Patient Interaction

Physician assistants are primary care providers who are often the first health care workers patients see for check-ups and when sick or injured. Therefore, physician assistants provide a first impression of the actual care in the health care journey.

Physician assistants have myriad of responsibilities. Also known as physician associates, they practice medicine on teams with physicians and other health care professionals, according to the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA). Physician assistant duties include:

  • Taking or reviewing patient medical histories.
  • Examining patients.
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or blood tests.
  • Diagnosing a patient’s injury or illness.
  • Giving treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients.
  • Educating and counseling patients and their families.
  • Prescribing medicine.
  • Assessing and recording a patient’s progress.
  • Researching the latest treatments.
  • Participating in outreach programs that promote wellness.

Physician assistants contribute to emerging strategies to deliver health care more efficiently and effectively. This places them at the forefront of health care transformation, and particularly, patient-centered care. Compassionate care is a must for health care providers, and now many are debating whether knowledge of the patient’s consumer journey can contribute to improved outcomes.

Patient or Consumer?

Supporters of viewing patients as consumers argue that the health care industry lacks the elevated personal experiences that are found in other industries. This, they say, is partially due to the nomenclature of (“patients” vs “consumers,”) which, when used throughout health care journey, that does not encourage a deeper understanding of consumer behavior.

Other experts see it differently.

It is easier to draw a connection between consumer or customer experience and some parts of the health care process like appointment scheduling, billing and insurance. However, within the clinical setting, the priority is to provide effective high-quality patient care. Acknowledging the patient as a consumer in clinical care might actually be confusing, if not harmful, according to research.

For their part, physician assistants and other medical professionals are concerned with improving an individual’s well-being, not burdening them with the responsibility of figuring out treatment plans on their own. Health care is unlike other consumer industries. Physician assistants are members of a team of care providers whom patients rely on for guidance and medical knowledge. 

So, does recognizing patients as consumers serve any benefit in clinical care? It is debatable, but probably not as much as simply recognizing patients as individuals with needs and preferences. Taking it a step further, patients can be viewed as partners who can actively engage with their health care providers. Educated and empowered, many patients are on a health care journey that can be enhanced by the support of physician assistants, nurses or doctors. 

Develop Your Understanding of Patient Engagement

Physician assistants provide for the critical needs of patients. Understanding patients’ preferences and values goes a long way in improving health care outcomes. The Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant from Carlow University offers a collaborative education experience that encourages meaningful alliances and prepares students to practice high-quality clinical care as a member of a healthcare team.