According to Wikipedia, a physician assistant is a health professional who is licensed to practice medicine as a part of a team with physicians.
This topic has become imperative following the huge ho-ha about the alarming doctor to patient ratio in most part of Africa of which Ghana is no exemption. The director of health service for greater Accra puts the figure at approximately one doctor is to 15259 patients as at the year 2012. This is partly the cause of long waiting time in most public health facilities in Ghana. Medical doctors are overburdened with responsibilities which physician assistants can easily discharge. The mere sight of long queues at public health facilities, psychologically is enough to further worsen ones ill health. Patients spend hours in queues just to be attended to.
The distance between the registry and the pharmacy is very short on paper but practically not, on an average it takes not less than six hours in a typical public health facility in Ghana. Inasmuch as others may argue that health is wealth and therefore spending the whole day to get medical care isn?t a problem, I beg to differ, it is a nonstarter. One needs not a degree in public health management to know the cause of the problem of long queues and waiting time in our hospitals.
The issue of long queues in hospitals and the inconvenience it creates cannot be over emphasized. This has been related to many other factors like lack of technological infrastructure and a host of other issues but paramount among them is the doctor to patient ratio because most times often than not, patients are cleared from the records and registry units only to go and join long queues in front of the consulting rooms awaiting to see the doctor because not only does it create inconvenience but it is a threat to the health needs of the nation. This makes it a very serious canker that needs to nib in the bud especially as step in achieving goal five, six and seven of the millennium development goals.
There are approximately 4500 physician assistants in Ghana, we have limited institutions training this professionals, KNUST, UHAS, Central University College, Presbyterian University College and Radford University College. It?s about time we as a people take a holistic look at alternatives that suits our needs than just being copy cats of western standards and practice. Obviously government lacks the resource and zeal to increase the size of the workforce of medical officers due to the danger and threat it poses to the public purse. Arguably, the obvious way to go as a country to increasing access to health care is to train more physician assistants.
It is an undisputed fact that just little is seen being put in place to train more medical doctors in the country partly because of orchestrations by some unsuspecting top echelons in the medical sector of the economy.
The number of medical doctors produced by our medical schools falls below what we need yet still students with good grades are denied the opportunity to study medicine.
Also statistics from the Ghana health service points out that a greater majority of OPD cases brought to the various hospitals can easily be diagnosed and treated by physician assistants. Then obviously the way to go as a nation is to train more physician assistants.
It takes just four years to train a physician assistant and six years for a medical doctor. Training more physician assistants comes with a lot of benefits which include reduce salary expenses and cost of training.
There?s the need therefore for the Ghana health service and the ministry of health to holistically look at the establishment of more (CHPS) centers and clinics and also design a gating system for seeking health services.
The community-based health planning and services (CHPS) has been hailed as a brilliant strategy to bring health services to the door steps of communities. A proper gating system where the first point of call of any symptom is the CHPS centers and clinics in our communities need to be championed. Physician assistants will be in control of these CHPS centers and clinics whilst the medical doctors take charge of the district hospitals to manage referral cases from the clinics and the CHPS centers. Specialist doctors will also take charge of the regional and teaching hospitals in Ghana.
When we have more physician assistants giving a lending hand, the work load of medical doctors will be reduced drastically because there will be evenly distributed patients at all the levels of health care service.
This will be of immense help especially when opportunity exist for physician assistants who practice for some number of years to upgrade themselves through further studies to become medical doctors in the cause of time. This will go a long way to further reduce the pressure on our medical schools and create opportunity and alternative to keep alive the dreams and aspirations of students who want to become medical doctors.
Training more physician assistants will help reduce overcrowding and waiting time in hospitals in Ghana, and further reduce the hustle and bustle of patients in health facilities.
At this end I hope all will agree with me that we need more physician assistants in Ghana.
Addy Anita- Anapaula