Physician assistants want permanent flexibility to practice

Health

A physician assistant takes off her face shield after collecting a nasal swab sample from a patient for COVID-19 testing at Xpress Urgent Care in Tustin, Calif. The personal protective gear that was in dangerously short supply during the initial weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running out again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Physician assistants were granted new flexibility to practice under a March 2020 Department of Public Health order aimed at boosting health care provider availability during the COVID-19 emergency, and are now asking lawmakers to write those measures permanently into statute.

As lawmakers consider what temporary measures to keep after the state of emergency ends on June 15, the Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants wrote Tuesday to the Senate Ways and Means Committee asking that bills filed by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Christine Barber be among whatever post-pandemic tweaks the committee pursues.

Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel’s March 18, 2020 order has allowed physician assistants’ employers to designate new supervising physicians for the PAs without filing additional paperwork with the state.

In testimony to the committee, Joshua Merson, the association’s legislative chair, said that order has allowed the state’s 4,000 PAs “to practice in different hospital divisions without filing new Supervising Physicians with the state for each deployment,” giving them the ability “to be flexible and nimble in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, going to where they are needed the most.”

“Specifically, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the hospital was able to rapidly redeploy more than 50 PAs to the front lines of the pandemic to help care for patients,” Merson wrote.

The Chandler and Barber bills (S 740, H 2229) would make the order’s provisions permanent.

“While the Emergency Order has allowed Physician Assistants across the Commonwealth to provide much-needed care without the burden of unnecessary paperwork and cumbersome bureaucracy, we believe that removing the requirement for PAs in Massachusetts to file a supervising physician with the state more broadly would allow for even greater flexibility and care for patients,” Merson wrote.

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