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PAs More Likely to Deliver Health Education to Patients

Health education is vital in order for patients with chronic conditions to practice adequate self-management, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study evaluating the provision of health education among physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and physicians.

The Study
The University of Nebraska Medical Center analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), where physicians and hospital staff recorded their activities with patients from 2005-2009. For this study, health care providers were credited for delivering health education if they documented it in the patient record using a list of health education needs for chronic conditions using national and international treatment guidelines.

The Results
The percentage of visits in which health education was provided for specific chronic-diseases ranged from 13% (when patients with asthma or COPD were provided education on smoking cessation) to 42.2% (when patients with diabetes or obesity were educated on nutrition and exercise). The results revealed that, of all types of providers, physician assistants were the most likely to provide health education to their patients.

How can practitioners increase patient education?
While study results showed that PAs came in first in patient education, the information collected doesn’t reveal a particular reason for those results. Researchers suggested that one possibility might be because insurance companies may fail to provide reimbursement for education services by physicians. Researchers also noted the general lack of time many health care providers have to spend in counseling.           

Additionally, the study notes that results are contingent on responses from patients, who may often feel less intimidated by non-physician providers such as PAs, and are therefore more willing to admit their lack of knowledge about their own condition. Furthermore, patients may be more likely to ask their questions to their PA before or after their appointment, perceiving their physician’s clinical demands.

Though the results reveal potential opportunities to increase the delivery of condition-specific education to patients from all types of health care providers, more research is needed to understand the causes of these differences between practitioner types.

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