The ranks of physician assistants are growing rapidly, helping health care providers treat more patients, say authors of a new report.

The United States had more than 83,000 physician assistants last year, about double the number of a decade ago, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Assistants often perform the same tasks as primary care doctors such as conducting physical exams, diagnosing illnesses, and ordering and interpreting tests.

"PAs are the only health care providers educated and credentialed with a primary care focus, providing a strong foundation for any specialty in which they may choose to practice," says Robert Wooten, president of the AAPA.

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