As a physician assistant, the need for exceptional consultation skills is an absolute necessity. All PAs are under the direct supervision of a licensed physician who serves as their first line of consultation or advice on procedures or treatments. The supervising physician need not be in the same location as the physician assistant. Many PAs work in settings where the office or clinic is remotely located with the supervising doctor elsewhere; even in a different state or country.
This is where the physician assistant’s skills in consultation are mandatory. Here is a short list of the skills required to be a successful, caring and empathetic physician assistant. This list is by no means complete or entire, but a guideline.
- Know WHEN to seek consultation – This is vitally important to the success of the clinic or remote practice and falls squarely on the PA. While it is true that a physician assistant is able to examine, diagnose and treat patients as well as prescribe medication, knowing when to ask for advice is crucial. For instance, in a scenario where a possible outbreak or other epidemic may be in the works, it is required that the PA consults with the supervising doctor. If a patient is afflicted with a malady that is life threatening, is chronic and worsens or is questionable, consultation is mandatory.
- Get familiar with technology – With the doctor possibly in a different geographic location, the consults can be performed remotely, without the doctor actually visiting the facility. All the consults may be done over the phone, via text messages or email, if applicable. This makes it crucial for the physician assistant to have massive verbal as well as written skills. It is important to get the point across and reach the resolution for treatment as quickly as possible.
- Keep complete records of all consultations – No matter what method of communication is used between the PA and the doctor, keep physical records of those conversations. This is not so much for your protection (though that is a part of this skill), as much as it is a matter of law in some states. In the case of an audit or review of the practice where a physician assistant is in place, this can save a lot of time and trouble. Especially when a patient doubts their treatment or diagnosis. The decision that is made should always be in conjunction with a licensed physician.
- Consultation skills are not limited – The successful physician assistant should be able to consult effectively with ANY medical professional that may have information they require to treat a patient. The supervising doctor is always there as guide and mentor, but on occasion, you may need to ask other medical personnel. Maybe you need to consult with a snake expert on a particularly nasty bite or identify the snake to procure the proper antidote for the venom. Possibly, the PA may need to talk to a poison control center or consult with a midwife. In any of these cases, the consultation skills of the physician assistant may the most important skill acquired.
In conclusion, sharpening the consultation skills of the physician assistant can be done during the continuing education (CE) that is required by the AAPA (American Association of Physician Assistants). The skills needed in this area may also be honed on the job and in practical application. In either case, the skills you posses, acquire or enhance can save the life of many patients over the course of your career as a physician assistant.