How Physician Assistants can Help Vulnerable Patients

Being a vulnerable patient could mean different things so when you ask your doctor “Am I a Vulnerable Patient?” Make sure to ask what the specifics mean and what they mean for your doctor. It is quite easy to become a vulnerable patient and it is more common than most people know. Even if you trust your doctor that’s providing care, vulnerability could come from other hospital staff such as nurses or physician assistants. Mistakes can be made that could affect your quality of care so you have to take note of these things. Below are the list of jobs and responsibilities that physician assistants have. Knowing this can help you understand potential areas of vulnerability.

Responsibilities of Physician Assistants

They Provide Primary CareAm I a Vulnerable Patient?

Physician assistants also provide primary care to patients which means they can serve as the first contact with potential and existing patients. They can treat a variety of health problems and also provide preventive care to patients. The can perform physical exams on patients, treat every day and more common illnesses, like the flu, high blood pressure, viruses etc and they can also provide ongoing care to patients. They can also diagnose patients, prescribe medication and so on. So yeah, a physician assistant could do a lot of what a physician does. Physician assistants work more commonly in clinics because of the high demand for these kinds of care and they focus on these areas so the doctors in the hospital can focus on more pressing health issues of patients.


Besides working in the clinic, a physician assistant can also work as a surgical assistant. They are usually in charge of the more basic surgery activities like putting in chest tubes and the likes. This is a high point of patient vulnerability because there could be complications and chest tubes and other tube inserted into patients like breathing tubes, surgical drainage tubes, starting central IV lines etc that can be the source of infections. Physician assistants also work as part of the surgery team working together with the anesthesiologist the nurses etc.

Emergency RoomAm I a Vulnerable Patient?

Besides the clinic, the physician assistants also work in the emergency room and provide fast-track care to increase the patient flow through the emergency room. They perform procedures like suturing and wound care, treating colds and other infections, sprains/strains, medication refills, tagging patients for admission etc. Depending on their training some physician assistants can also perform more advanced procedures in the emergency room if the need arises.


Physician assistants can assist doctors during orthopedic surgeries like broken hip surgeries, broken arm surgeries, dislocated bone surgeries etc. They can also help make and remove casts on broken limbs of patients. They can carry out the imaging procedures before and after surgery and also help with the diagnosis process.

Hospital Rounds

Physician assistants also help with treating patients that are admitted into the hospital. They make rounds going from bed to bed to check in patients and perform daily care routines and monitoring.

How to Handle Patient
Vulnerability in a Hospital

Identify Vulnerable PatientsAm I a Vulnerable Patient?

In order to manage patient vulnerability in a healthcare organization, the first step is to identify vulnerable patients. Identifying the most vulnerable patients will help the hospital match the services being provided to their specific needs. This will help reduce vulnerability and reduce occurrences of vulnerability related issues. Hospitals can use data and electronic health records to identify vulnerable patients by checking the history of chronic illnesses, history of readmission etc. These kinds of predictive factors can help hospitals customize treatments in a way to help vulnerable patients be better cared for.

Match Patients to Needs

This should not be mistaken for patient stratification. Matching patients to their needs in a hospital involves putting a plan in place to position patients in the best ways to benefit from the resources that would be most beneficial to their recovery. It also involves letting patients know that these services are available for them to take advantage of and benefit from.

Train Employees

Properly training employees goes a long way to solve the problems that arise with patient vulnerability. Clinical staff and physician assistants need complete and continuous training on topics such as care protocols, patient interaction, bedside manner training etc. Physician assistants and nurses and clinicians can also be trained on how to get feedback from patients and apply this feedback to the system to make it better.

Tracking Outcomes

Am I a Vulnerable Patient?

Measuring and tracking outcomes is one way to ensure improvement because “if it cannot be measured then it cannot be improved”. Healthcare organizations should monitor things like mortality rates, emergency department visit patterns and 30-day readmission rate etc and see how many of these could have been prevented with better handling of patient vulnerability.

Have the Best Interest of Patients

This might seem too obvious but having the best interest of patients and training all employees to do so will make caring for vulnerable patients a lot easier and effective. Taking the patients best interest into consideration when administering care is not only ethical but it leaves the patients feeling more satisfied with their treatment. Even when a patient is being difficult, being kind and considerate goes a long way to make a patient be more corporative.

Some vulnerable patients frequently have feelings of doubt or worry and they communicate this sometimes in less than cordial ways. Some patients can be angry, withdrawn, rude, interruptive etc. All this is just a feeling of fear and vulnerability manifesting in different ways. Doctors, nurses and physician assistants should be trained in how to handle these kinds of delicate situations with patience, understanding, and diplomacy.