MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As the patient overload looms and physicians feel the effects statewide, other health care providers are trying to answer the call.
A growing number of physician assistants--trained, supervised practitioners--are doing their part.
"If we need physician back up, they're always there, however, we have the ability to see patients, make the diagnosis, then adequately treat the patient," said Stephanie McGilvray, president of the Alabama Society of Physician Assistants.
Last year, a new law gave PAs the ability to prescribe many painkillers and narcotics.
"When you can't get in to see your physician, we can do those things," McGilvray explained.
The privileges aren't universal. Nurse practitioners, for example, are greater in number, but more restricted.
According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, Alabama is only one of two states that doesn't allow them to prescribe the same kinds of drugs as PAs.
"If we're treating someone who has bronchitis, and we come in and treat them for every other aspect of the disease process, we can't give them anything for the cough," said Auburn Montgomery's Carol Stewart, MSN, CRNP.
Nurse practitioners are spread across the state. Many live in rural areas where the need is the greatest.
"This is home to them. This is their environment. This is where people know them, so in our minds, this is a perfect fit," Stewart said.
Plus, access isn't always a problem.
"Parents can talk to us a lot better than they can the actual physician if they're not here, and we're here 24-7," explained Charity McDade, a nurse practitioner at Baptist Medical Center South.
As the patient population grows, providers agree--something needs to be done.
"I don't see the healthcare system being able to continue to work for the good of the patient without it being a team approach," McGilvray said.
Nurse practitioners did have a bill in the legislature asking for similar prescription rights this session.
But it died, advocates say, after the sponsors changed the language and the organization in charge of those rights.