In the Interim | PAs Push For Title Upgrade Amid Increased Interest & Income, Hospitals Slam Noncompete Ban & More

“In the Interim” is a snapshot of the latest and most relevant news in the locum tenens industry. No repeats, less scrolling, more knowledge. Check out the articles we found most interesting this month.   

1. Physician assistant workforce sees ongoing growth, income rise

A new report by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) revealed that the physician assistant (PA) profession in the United States has experienced significant growth and increased income in the past four years. According to the report, from 2018 to 2022, board-certified PAs surged 28%, with notable expansions in states like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Indiana. The adoption of telemedicine by PAs has dramatically risen, too, with Alaska leading the nation at a 59% adoption rate.

The demographic composition of the PA workforce has also shifted. It is now predominantly female, maintaining a steady trend over the past decade, with women making up 71% of the profession in 2022. This shift in gender dynamics reflects broader changes in workplace preferences and the evolving healthcare landscape, emphasizing work-life balance and flexibility. PAs also report high job satisfaction, with a notable increase in average income from $110,599 in 2018 to $120,204 in 2022.  

(Medscape, April 4, 2024) 

2. To address physician shortage, Blue Cross to reimburse small Mass. primary care providers $20M

Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Massachusetts has committed to providing up to $20 million in reimbursements to bolster small, independent primary care practices across the state. The company’s president and CEO, Sarah Iselin, announced the initiative to alleviate patient wait times. By enhancing the financial support to more than 1,000 primary care providers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, the insurer is looking to increase the accessibility and quality of care without raising the overall costs to its members. 

This move is particularly crucial as the company noted a 10% growth in its primary care network over the past five years, alongside decreasing patient satisfaction with access to timely medical consultations since 2019. With this strategic focus, BCBS hopes to stabilize and strengthen these essential healthcare providers, improve health outcomes, and make healthcare more affordable.

(Worcester Business Journal, April 9, 2024) 

3. America’s newest doctors fuel efforts to unionize

America’s emerging generation of doctors is increasingly pushing for unionization, addressing concerns over heavy workloads and substantial student debt that have become hallmarks of their early careers. With physician trainees facing escalating demands and an eroding work-life balance, the movement towards unionization mirrors broader labor trends across the healthcare sector. 

This surge in unionization among medical residents has seen significant momentum, with the number of unionized residents doubling to over 32,000 in just three years. High-profile unionization votes occurred at major medical centers such as Montefiore Medical Center, Stanford Health Care, and the University of Pennsylvania. These efforts reflect broader frustrations within the profession, particularly around the corporatization of healthcare, which many feel compromises patient care and physician autonomy.  

(Axios, April 15, 2024) 

4. Physician assistants’ push for a rebrand gains steam

Physician assistants (PAs) in the United States are pushing to rebrand themselves as “physician associates” to better reflect their evolving role and prominence within the healthcare system amid a nationwide physician shortage. The hope is that through this rebranding initiative, which has seen its first legal acceptance in Oregon, PAs can more accurately describe their scope of practice and align their title with their advanced qualifications and responsibilities. Although the change does not affect their compensation, it is meant to clarify their professional standing to patients and the greater healthcare community. Critics, however, argue that this move could blur the lines between doctors and PAs, potentially leading to patient confusion and facilitating a shift towards independent practice by PAs.

Despite some internal opposition and concerns about the costs associated with such a significant change, proponents claim that the new title of “physician associate” better represents the professional capabilities of PAs and could help improve patients’ understanding of their role in healthcare delivery.  

(Axios, April 16, 2024) 

5. AI medical assistants see rapid growth as health systems turn to tech as a cure for burnout crisis

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) is advancing its use of artificial intelligence (AI) by integrating Nabla’s ambient AI assistant, Nabla Copilot (designed to generate clinical notes rapidly), into its pediatric care system. The AI tool has shown significant time-saving benefits during its pilot phase, reducing the administrative burden on physicians and potentially improving patient care. Nabla Copilot produces AI-generated notes quickly and supports AI-enabled medical coding, which can further streamline the documentation process. CHLA reported that physicians saved about 1.5 hours per day using this technology, with minimal modifications needed for the notes it generates. The AI system integrates seamlessly with CHLA’s electronic health records, ensuring that enhancements in efficiency do not compromise data security or patient confidentiality.

Deploying AI tools like Nabla Copilot in healthcare settings like CHLA is part of a larger trend where health systems increasingly turn to AI to address clinical burnout and administrative overhead. Notably, Rush University System for Health is also embracing AI solutions by working with Suki to trial its AI assistant, aiming to implement the technology across its entire network.  

(Fierce Healthcare, April 18, 2024) 

6.‘Think about the hype’ – AI holds disruptive potential for healthcare

AI in healthcare is evolving rapidly, promising to alleviate some of the burdens clinicians face by automating tasks like documentation and patient communication. However, physician experts say integrating AI into healthcare must be done responsibly, ensuring that human oversight remains critical to prevent potential errors and maintain trust. AI technologies have developed from predictive models and neural networks to include generative AI, greatly expanding their potential applications across the healthcare spectrum.

Despite its potential, there’s a notable gap in understanding and trust among patients regarding AI’s role in healthcare. Many patients are unsure if AI is being used by their healthcare providers, and a substantial number feel uncomfortable with the use of AI without a proper explanation of its benefits. Patients have expressed more comfort with AI when they are informed about how it improves diagnostic accuracy and when they understand that AI serves as an assistive tool rather than replacing human judgment.

(Medical Economics, April 19, 2024) 

7. Hospitals slam FTC’s noncompete ban

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently decided to ban noncompete agreements, which they estimate will save the healthcare sector up to $194 billion over the next decade. The decision, passed by a narrow 3-2 vote, specifically impacted many US hospitals; Roughly 58% of nonprofit hospitals and 19% of government-owned hospitals may fall under this rule. Despite not typically having jurisdiction over nonprofit entities, the FTC has stated it may evaluate an entity’s nonprofit status to enforce this rule. The healthcare industry has expressed strong concerns about the ruling, highlighting the potential challenges it may pose in recruiting and retaining medical staff amidst ongoing workforce shortages.

Industry leaders, such as the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Hospital Association (AHA), have voiced significant opposition, arguing that the rule creates an uneven playing field between tax-paying and tax-exempt hospitals and could harm patient care quality due to increased staffing challenges. The AHA also criticized the FTC’s approach as overly broad and disconnected from the legal and practical realities of the healthcare market. Despite these concerns, the FTC argues that eliminating noncompete clauses will foster job mobility and innovation, potentially increasing wages and the number of patents filed annually.

(Becker’s Hospital Review, April 23, 2024) 

That’s it for this month’s edition of In the Interim! Stay tuned for next month’s roundup of newsworthy articles for locum tenens providers. To stay in the loop on future news, follow us on LinkedIn.