Illinois is on track to expand the number of physician assistants allowed to treat patients, especially in many rural areas.
Senate Bill 2904 increases the number of physician assistants a doctor is allowed to collaborate with. The bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature, also removes the upper limit on physician assistants in areas facing a shortage of healthcare providers.
"Currently in Illinois, law is that a physician can only collaborate with 5 physician assistants," said Don Diemer, Director of the Physician Assistant program at Southern Illinois University. "And in health profession shortage areas, that's caused some difficulty with the PAs that want to stay and practice in Southern Illinois and other rural and underserved areas."
Physician assistants perform many of the same duties as doctors and Diemer says that many patients in rural areas see physician assistants as their primary care provider.
"What this bill will do is increase the access to care and quality [of] care," he explained. "Currently, you may have to travel long distances to even see a provider in some cases. So it will decrease wait times, eliminate the need to travel to other areas, and keep our providers here at home to take care of the communities."
Diemer says that's important for SIU graduates as well. Roughly 70% of the program's graduates want to stay in the area, he says, a number much higher than the national average. He says some PA grads recently had to move away because they couldn't find jobs.
If signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner, the new rules would take effect January 1.