Longtime PA Joins State, National Advocacy Efforts

As the medical profession evolves, so does the role of the PA, in ways that translate to better patient access and care.

Dan O’Donoghue, Ph.D., PA-C, has been at the center of much of that change both in Oklahoma and nationwide since he arrived at the OU College of Medicine 25 years ago. O’Donoghue has been honored with Lifetime Membership in the Oklahoma Academy of Physician Assistants, as well as being named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. He is the first PA to receive the Stanton L. Young Master Teacher Award and to be named a David Ross Boyd Professor in the OU College of Medicine; he is part of the Department of Cell Biology. He continues to advocate for the PA’s role in ways that would enhance patient access to quality medical care.

“The PA is another layer of trusted medical care,” O’Donoghue said. “I like to say that PAs serve as a high-level triage. With our ability to diagnose a patient, we can plot out what tests need to be done right away vs. what can wait. I think that has intrinsic value to the team because it prioritizes resources.”

O’Donoghue serves on the board of directors for the AAPA and is the board adviser to the organization’s Research and Strategic Commission. One of its primary tasks is developing a national conversation about bringing PAs further into the administrative role of medicine. Many of those same conversations are taking place at the OU Health Sciences Center.

“I think we can utilize PAs more efficiently to increase access for patients,” he said. “For example, if a patient needs to go from family medicine to cardiology, a PA can help make that transition and develop an informed differential about what the patient needs right away as well as later in their care. There also are opportunities for PAs to come together for continuing education and ongoing discussion about how medicine in general is evolving.”

On the state level, legislation is being considered that would further define the relationship between a supervising physician and the PA, as well as parameters around the number of PAs a physician can hire for his or her practice. The Oklahoma PA Practice Act was written prior to the advent of cell phones and electronic medical records; updating it would acknowledge the technology that allows PAs and physicians to keep in frequent and ongoing contact.

“It’s bringing us from the time when mimeographs were the way to make copies to the paperless interaction of today,” O’Donoghue said. “There are better, more efficient ways for people to verify and exchange information. PAs operate as part of a team, and we’re interested in ongoing, substantial contact with our supervising physicians. But what that means early in PA practice vs. what that means later is different. As PAs and physicians work together, they become comfortable with how things work, and their trust and experience builds. As that occurs, the amount of direct supervision goes down and the amount of PA autonomy within the practice goes up. The value to a medical practice of a PA increases with time.”

The general public agrees. According to a recent Gallup poll, 93 percent of patients who had seen a PA viewed them as trusted providers and part of the solution to a shortage of providers.