Lovelace, Roger D PA

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

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin’s healthcare providers have demonstrated our commitment to patients throughout the state – stepping up when and where we are needed most.

In March, Wisconsin’s lawmakers showed tremendous support for our state’s healthcare teams and the patients we serve by passing a law that will improve the way physicians and PAs (physician assistants) work together by ensuring PAs are unhindered by outdated laws.

PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s main healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training and a master’s degree education, PAs practice in every medical setting and specialty.

PAs are a ready solution for addressing our state’s healthcare needs, including the need for increased access in rural areas, and this law will help our state make the most of our PA workforce.

Act 23, which quickly passed by unanimous votes in both the General Assembly and Senate, was signed into law on March 26.

Once effective, this law will increase patient access to care by authorizing PAs to participate in disaster and volunteer care without being required to collaborate with a specific physician, as long as the care is within a PA’s scope of practice.

The past year and the continued need to address an overburdened healthcare system have certainly shown our state that we must work to find solutions to ensure Wisconsinites in all parts of the state have access to high-quality care.

On behalf of the patients we serve, the Wisconsin Academy of PAs applauds our legislature and Governor Tony Evers for seizing an opportunity to make much-needed changes to PA practice laws. We especially extend our gratitude to Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) for her strong support of PAs and our patients as well as Reps. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), Nancy VanderMeer (R-Tomah) and James Edming (R-Glen Flora) and Sens. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska).

Act 23 will make several additional changes that will help increase access to care in the long term. It will allow PAs’ scope of practice to be determined at the practice level, based on their education, training, and experience. It will also update the term used to describe the PA-physician relationship from “supervision” to “collaboration” and allow PAs to have regulatory and disciplinary authority over their own profession – similar to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health professions.

These commonsense changes will update state law to better reflect how modern healthcare teams work together. They will also be critical in helping our state address a heightened need for medical care and provider burnout – during the pandemic and beyond. Now more than ever, our state needs every healthcare provider working to the top of their ability.

Over the last year, PAs have been a crucial part of the national COVID-19 response. According to a 2020 survey by the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), three in five PAs have tested, diagnosed, or treated COVID-19 patients.

In fact, another AAPA survey this year found that in the first 10 weeks of the pandemic, 5.9% of PAs changed their specialty and 9.9% changed their practice setting. This nearly equals the number of PAs who changed setting or specialty in the entire year of 2019.

Thanks to Act 23, Wisconsin’s PAs will be able to do even more for our patients.

— Lovelace, PA-C, is president of the Wisconsin Academy of PAs.

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