The Impact of Physician Assistants on a Breast Reconstruction Practice: Outcomes and Cost Analysis

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Abstract

Background

Physician assistants (PAs) are commonly employed in plastic surgery. However, limited data exist on their impact, which may guide decisions regarding how best to integrate them into practice.

Methods

A review of the practices of 2 breast reconstructive surgeons was performed. A comparison was made between a 1-year period before to a 1-year period after the addition of a PA into practice. The practice model was a one-to-one pairing of a plastic surgeon and a PA.

Results

A total of 4141 clinic encounters and 1356 surgical cases were reviewed. After the addition of PAs, there was a significant increase in relative value units (1057 vs 1323 per month per surgeon, P < 0.001). Operative times were similar with and without PAs (P = 0.45). However, clinic encounter times for surgeons were shorter for all visit types when patients were first seen by a PA before the surgeon: global follow-up (P = 0.03), other follow-up (P = 0.002), consultation (P = 0.76), and preoperative (P = 0.02), translating to 9 additional patients seen per day. Charges (P = 0.001) and payments (P = 0.007) also increased, which offset the cost of using a PA. However, the financial contribution from PA involvement as first assistant in surgery was limited (5.2%). The peak effect of PAs was observed between the third and fourth quarters.

Conclusions

In breast reconstruction, PAs primarily enhance the efficiency of plastic surgeons, particularly in the clinic, with downstream clinical and financial gains of an indirect nature for surgeons.

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