Improving Mental Health Services Through Physician Assistants: Legislation in Several Southern States

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Abstract

A national effort to provide more expansive mental health care in the United States has been an increasing priority during the last decade. States have enacted laws that allow for the delegation of psychiatric services to physician assistants in an effort to address the shortage and geographic maldistribution of mental health services and to more efficiently use the skills of psychiatrists. This statutory scheme recognizing physician assistants has been effective in broadening access to mental health care in various southern states. It also has, however, imposed certain risks and responsibilities upon psychiatrists who choose to supervise physician assistants. Understanding the regulatory responsibilities imposed upon supervising psychiatrists and anticipating the risks associated with supervising a physician assistant are important in avoiding grave financial consequences and the difficulties associated with litigation. Here, we review the statutory responsibilities imposed upon the psychiatrists supervising physician assistants across various southern states and to discuss the risk of vicarious liability of the psychiatrists for the actions of the physician assistants.

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