Leadership | 08.23.21
Allied-health Groups’ Name Changes Prompt Opposition
The recent name changes of two allied-health groups have prompted physician-group opposition and have intensified the continued debate on scope distinctions and limitations. In May 2021, the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) House of Delegates announced that the Academy would move forward with changing the PA profession’s title from “Physician Assistant” to “Physician Associate,” which “…accurately reflects AAPA professional practice policies.”
Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) issued statements opposing this name change, with both groups citing concerns for patient confusion and scope erosion. Both physician groups’ statements recognized the valuable relationship physicians have with PAs, but stated that all practitioner groups need to understand and adhere to defined scopes of practice.
The AMA’s statement acknowledged the value that all members of the care team provide, but called for all parties to adhere to their defined scopes. “We remain strongly committed to supporting physician-led health care teams that use the unique knowledge and valuable contributions of all health care professionals to enhance patient outcomes. It is also what patients want, which is why clarity in health care titles is so important.”
The AOA’s response also acknowledged the distinct contributions that each member of the care team provide, stating that they “…value the important contributions made to our healthcare system by our non-physician colleagues….However, it is important to recognize that there is no substitute for the unique and extensive education and training that provides the foundation for physician-level medical decision making.”
Despite these concerns, the AAPA will move forward with its name change, incrementally, over the next five years. The AAPA stated that in the meantime, all entities should refer to PAs as “Physician Assistants” until the AAPA finalizes the name change.
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ (AANA) recent name change to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology prompted similar opposition from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). The ASA's concerns with the AANA’s name change also cited increased patient confusion and discord within the healthcare team.
“AANA’s title misappropriation is a deceptive use of established medical terms and is part of their continuing push for nurse-only practice, which can jeopardize our patients’ safety and well-being. It also misleads the public and engages in the pretense that nurse anesthetists’ education and training are equivalent to that of physicians.”
MSPs know well that scope-expansion and realignment initiatives can be tense among practitioner groups. And it is likely that more allied-healthcare groups will pursue name-change routes similar to AAPA’s and AANA’s initiatives. As the gatekeepers for patient safety, MSPs’ role in assessing training and competence remain clear.