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Opinions of Sunday, 15 April 2018

Columnist: Otabil Richmond Amissah

The physician assistant; an integral member of our primary healthcare system

Some physician assistants Some physician assistants

The 2018 Doctor-Patient ratio in Ghana stands are 1:8,500. A country of a population of 30 million and 3,500 doctors. Providing primary healthcare to the people of Ghana wouldn’t be possible if we are expecting our doctors alone to deliver the services.

There are other members of the healthcare sector who provide essential services. The system operating in Ghana is often such that, there are even middle level professionals in the healthcare field who have on the job training and do their best to help in meeting the high demands.

In Ghana, the Physician Assistant (PA) is tasked with providing comprehensive primary health services in support of the total effort of the healthcare delivery system and also achieve equity in coverage and quality of care especially in rural centres as well as polyclinics or hospitals in the urban setting.

Physician Assistants do not necessarily play second fiddle to the Doctor, they work as members of a Medical team to provide health care and to conduct monitoring and evaluation of patients’ care as well as collaborating with other disciplines and health care staff to ensure optimum care of clients.

What are our clinical roles?

In the PA’s job descriptions, these are clearly outlined which includes:
The assessment and prioritization of patients presenting at Health Centres/Polyclinics or Hospitals, according to their medical need. This important role is achieved by undertaking a confidential patient consultation consisting of history taking, physical examinations and diagnosis after which they are to initiate and implement care plan for patients. They also attend to emergency cases, minor surgical interventions, Obstetrics and Gynaecology cases, pediatric/geriatric cases, chronic ailments, ENT cases, etc. according to training and competence.

The PA is also equipped to offer primary healthcare to patients with mental health problems and refer as appropriate.
The PA is also involved in clinical meetings, morbidity and mortality meetings as well.

The PA is needed to perform relieving duties at Health Centres and relevant health facilities when needed. All of these are geared towards ensuring clients get the best of care even though our health care system is in dire need of human resource due to the high doctor to patient ratio.
The work of the PA isn’t only clinical, in the community, the PA has an important role to play as well.

Community roles

The PA is required to participate in community outreach health activities within the catchment area and to facilitate community involvement in health programmes by involving the chiefs, elders and opinion leaders in the community.
It is the duty of the PA to contribute to maternal and child welfare, family planning programmes and health education talks within the community.

These vital preventive health services helps in ensuring citizens live healthy lifestyles.
The PA is also required to collect and report on data-socio/epidemiological morbidity and mortality.

You should know that these roles are integral and important factors in ensuring the provision of better healthcare to the citizenry and without the PA, primary healthcare delivery in Ghana will suffer considerably.

The PA also has management and administrative roles in many of the sub-districts in the country. They ensure the day to day management as well as supervision of other health stations within the sub-district including community clinics, CHPS compounds, urban CHPS and maternity homes.

In addition, the PA maintains effective communication with colleagues and other professional groups and clients. This is important in ensuring the optimum delivery of better healthcare.
One other important role is the research responsibilities PAs undertake. Surveys, basic research in the clinic or catchment area are used to improve on our primary healthcare system.

Everyone needs a doctor but for a country like Ghana and many Africa countries as well as developing countries around the world, access to a doctor is not a luxury many can afford. The Physician Assistant is an important personality of our healthcare system to ensure everyone receives the care needed to live a healthy life.
The PA is therefore an important building block of our primary healthcare system, take the PA out of it and the building stands the risk of collapse.

Otabil Richmond Amissah
2nd Year Physician Assistant Student
University of Cape Coast