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Clinical Knowledge for
Medical Office Assistants

Medical office assistants manage important administrative tasks in doctors’ offices and hospitals within their clerical roles. But unlike other industries, health care is complicated, and clinical training makes it possible for front office staff to serve patients more efficiently.

The processes go hand-in-hand. If you have an aptitude for administration but want to work on the front lines of medicine, a medical office program at a vocational school covers all the clinical information and knowledge you need.

Clinical Knowledge Learned by Medical Office Assistants

Medical office assistant programs prepare you for entry-level positions tackling important responsibilities, from scheduling and data entry to keeping supply closets stocked in a medical office. The curriculum covers essential administrative topics from coding and billing to health record management.

Clinical training is designed to enhance clerical skills, giving you the knowledge you need to make sense of these complex tasks. Topics include medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, and medical law and ethics.

Medical Terminology

Doctors speak a language all their own. To understand the many documents you’ll work with in a health care office, it’s essential to know common medical terms.

In a medical terminology class, you’ll learn about word prefixes, suffixes, and roots and how they’re put together to build the terms that the clinical staff uses. By graduation, you’ll be able to review health records and understand what they pertain to. Spelling becomes easier to master with experience.

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy is how the body is made; physiology is how it works. Medical office assistant programs cover the human body’s different systems and what they do. You’ll learn about common conditions, surgical procedures, and preventive health measures, allowing you to better interpret what happens in a medical office.

Medical Law and Ethics

The health care field is highly regulated. Staff members must be well educated about medical law to protect themselves and their employers from legal and ethical complaints.

Law classes for medical office assistants cover issues from professional liability and malpractice to confidentiality rules and record handling. You will graduate with a grasp of health care law to build on.

The Importance of Clinical Knowledge for Medical Office Assistants

As a medical office assistant, you will have a purely administrative role, yet each of these many responsibilities has an undeniable clinical component. These tasks include telephone triage, scheduling, patient education, health record management, processing insurance claims, word processing, ordering supplies, and handling emergencies.

Training in administrative functions and knowledge of clinical skills will help you gain the skills to be a successful medical office assistant.

Telephone Triage

When patients call their doctor to report worrisome symptoms, they expect a knowledgeable, reassuring response. As switchboard operators, you can’t always answer health questions.

Still, you can use your clinical expertise to triage inquiries, ensuring information is directed promptly to the staff member best able to help. It’s an important part of quality patient care.

Since medical office assistants handle the scheduling, it’s also important that you can recognize symptoms of serious conditions. A client with chest pain could have a pulled muscle, but it could also signal a heart attack.

You are trained to know when to schedule a visit and when to keep patients on the line to talk to a doctor. During flu season, you screen callers for symptoms so that sick and uninfected patients aren’t in the waiting room at the same time.


A medical office assistant’s goal is to keep doctors busy because it generates revenue, but not all available time slots are suitable for every purpose.

For example, scheduling a procedure that requires two hours of subsequent monitoring an hour before the practice closes is impractical. Similarly, empty slots must be penciled in for acutely ill patients. In multiphysician practices, you must track shared equipment, so it’s not double-booked.

It takes time to learn the ropes, but knowing what medical equipment is used for and how much time specific procedures take helps keep the day running smoothly for the clinical staff.

Patient Education

A doctor’s office is a resource for the community. It serves as a patient’s gateway for information on a variety of health topics. As clients’ first point of contact, you use your clinical background to answer nonmedical questions and relay accurate messages from doctors and nurses. This means that patients get a quicker response and clinical staff save time, so it’s a win-win.

Health Record Management

In a medical office assistant program, you’ll learn about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA. This legislation governs how sensitive health data are handled.

As the person in charge of managing medical records, it’s up to you to safeguard patient confidentiality. At check-in, you’ll verify who has permission to access clients’ health information and when. You’ll review consent forms for transferring data to collaborating physicians, ensuring patients are aware of their rights while being careful to protect both paper records and documents shared electronically.

Practices that violate HIPAA regulations may be sanctioned, fined, or denied participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. As an employee, you could lose your job. Discretion is crucial.

Processing Insurance Claims

The majority of medical claims are paid by third parties. Each insurer has its own forms and submission protocols, but there’s a common thread.

All claims are coded with alphanumeric sequences that correspond to the services patients were provided. This coding cuts down significantly on the volume of information exchanged between doctors, hospitals, and insurers, but one wrong digit and the claim could be rejected.

Since you will assist with billing, a working knowledge of codes and associated procedures may help to wrap up claims quickly. The practice gets the revenue it needs to pay the bills, and patients don’t get surprise invoices in the mail.

Ordering Supplies

One popular medical supply catalog might feature over a thousand different bandages, so knowing which to order can be confusing. Since you won’t spend much time working directly with medical supplies, you will depend on your clinical knowledge to make the right ordering choices.

With experience, you can begin to compare products between vendors, looking for better prices or terms. Since clinical supplies are a large part of a private practice’s budget, savings can mount quickly.

Handling Emergencies

A doctor’s waiting room is full of sick patients. At any moment, one could need emergency medical attention.

As a medical office assistant, you will work near the front desk, so you’re in the best position to notice and respond to problems.

Final Thoughts

As a medical office assistant, you won’t provide hands-on care, but you will see the clinical side of medicine every day. Vocational school programs provide you with the well-rounded education you deserve, ensuring you have both the administrative and clinical knowledge necessary to be an important team player in a modern medical office.

Did learning about the importance of clinical knowledge for medical office assistants interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical field?

The Medical Office Administration program prepares students with the skills and training necessary to provide excellent administrative support while working and playing a key role in running an efficient, productive office in a variety of medical and business environments.

Through a blend of classroom instruction and practical hands-on training, Medical Office Administration program students receive an in-depth education in computer data entry of patient information, patient files, filing systems and records, insurance claim filing, and billing and coding.

Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical office assistant on Long Island.