Patient Willingness to be Seen by a Physician Associate in Ireland

Background: The physician associate (PA) role was piloted in Dublin, Ireland between 2015 and 2017. However, the concept of a PA and the acceptance of their role in Ireland had not been previously explored.

Objective: To investigate the willingness of Irish citizens to be seen by a PA based on medical scenarios in a typical clinical setting.

Design: A mixed methods study was undertaken. A preference survey, with three medical scenarios, gave participants a choice to be treated by a PA or a doctor, with two time trade-off options offered. Responses were supported with qualitative text. Four hundred people were invited to participate as surrogate patients.

Setting and participants: In 2017 a total of 270 respondents took part in the study (67.5%) in two hospitals (one private and one public) in Dublin. The mean age was 60; male (n=142) and female (n=128) respondents.

Findings: In total, 95% of the respondents chose to see a PA over a doctor based on the scenarios presented and a wait time of 30 minutes. Waiting time, trust, competency and the severity or seriousness of the medical condition were categorized into three themes for choosing the PA over the doctor. The ‘surrogate patient’ decisions made by this sample were influenced by knowing that the PA is supervised and can check decisions with their supervizing physician.

Conclusion: These findings are consistent with studies carried out in other countries where willingness to be seen by a PA is neither age nor gender specific. Patient preference seems to concur around the importance of trust and confidence in the medical provider.