The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

Patients across the country are starting to feel the effects of the physician shortage, especially those seeking primary care. Wisconsin is no different. The Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce warns that there is a projected shortfall of 745 FTE Primary Care Physicians, or 14% compared to overall supply. Some regions will be disproportionately affected, however, and expect shortages of up to 93.7%.

Consider this: An average primary care physician has a panel of 2500 patients. The anticipated shortage will have significant impact on this state!

The healthcare community is working to combat this problem and PAs are a crucial part of the solution. The Collaboration and Rural Expansion of Services (CARES) Act, SB 515 and AB 575, authored by Sens. Bernier, Kooyenga, and Hansen and Reps. VanderMeer, Edming, and Considine, has been introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate. Passage of this legislation will better position PAs to address this shortage and meet patient needs in our state.

PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medication and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider.

They are educated at the master’s degree level and are trained in the medical model similar to physicians. PAs complete 2,000 hours or more of hands-on clinical training in addition to classroom education before graduating. This background and education allow PAs to be adaptable and flexible in the healthcare workforce. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty. There are more than 131,000 PAs in the U.S., and more than 2,600 PAs practice in Wisconsin. A PA handles an average of 3,800 patient encounters per year according to the National Commission on the Certification of PAs.

At the national level, last year, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) released a policy brief in support of modernizing PA practice laws, recognizing that PAs can do more for patients in rural areas when they’re able to practice at the top of their education and experience. Yet, in Wisconsin, rural areas and medically underserved communities do not have access to the care they deserve. And while PAs are doing their best to help, outdated laws limit their ability to fill those gaps.

Wisconsin’s PA laws have not changed in the past 40 years – but the CARES Act can fix this. The CARES Act will, among other things, eliminate many unnecessary administrative burdens for PAs and physicians; determine an individual PA’s scope of practice by their education, training, and experience; and give PAs more flexibility in their relationships with physicians and other healthcare providers.

Not only will these changes increase patient access to care, they will also decrease the costs and burdens on Wisconsin’s healthcare system.

If Wisconsin legislators want to increase patients’ access to high-quality and cost-effective medical care, they need to refresh PA practice laws during this legislative session. Wisconsin is falling behind surrounding states which have already passed legislation similar to CARES.

Simplifying, standardizing, and modernizing PA practice authority in Wisconsin will increase the number of PAs in the state and help us to close the gap created by the provider shortage. The CARES Act is crucial to meeting that goal.

–Julie Doyle, PA-C, DFAAPA, is the President of the Wisconsin Academy of PAs.