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Multitasking and Phone Triage in Medical Assisting

Medical assisting is an ideal career if you want to enter the health care industry. Medical assistants are becoming among the most in-demand professionals in any industry.

Medical assistants have multiple daily tasks. They’re responsible for assisting in both clinical and administrative work. To perform medical assisting duties effectively, one needs communication skills, technical skills, and analytical skills.

Clinical duties might include the following skills.

  • Assisting patients in examination preparation
  • Aiding the nurse or physician during an exam
  • Conducting basic tests
  • Administering EKGs
  • Sterilizing equipment
  • Drawing blood
  • Changing dressings
  • Working with medical equipment

Administrative duties can include these abilities.

  • Phone and email triage
  • Updating patient medical records
  • Scheduling various appointments
  • Managing bookkeeping and billing
  • Completing insurance paperwork

Learning to multitask is critical for a medical assistant.

What Is Multitasking?

Multitasking is the ability to work on several tasks at once. People who multitask aren’t technically working on several tasks simultaneously. Instead, they’re training their brains to switch quickly between different tasks so they can be completed in the same time frame. Most jobs require some level of multitasking, and medical assisting is no exception.

Medical assistants must pay attention to what physicians, patients, and administrators need. They must keep the office running by staying on pace with administrative tasks. They must follow up with patients and triage phone calls.

It’s a lot to handle. There are certain qualities that allow a medical assistant to multitask.

What Qualities Does Someone Need to Be a Good Multitasker?

There are a number of qualities that help a medical assistant be a good multitasker. They include the ability to prioritize, being self-motivated, having self-discipline, developing the ability to solve problems, and having the enthusiasm to keep moving forward.

Ability to Prioritize

The ability to prioritize is one of the most important aspects of multitasking. The medical assistant should identify which tasks need to be completed the fastest, along with which tasks will take the longest amount of time.

One form of prioritizing is phone triaging. If part of a medical assistant’s job is answering a phone, he/she may use a phone triage system to sort phone calls in order of priority.

For example, a patient calling to schedule an appointment doesn’t need attention as urgently as a patient calling with a medical emergency. Medical assistants using a phone triage system generally need to refer emergency calls to emergency health services in an efficient time period.

A phone triage system helps prioritize patient needs in a clinical setting. It can also increase medical assistants’ productivity by helping them complete more phone calls.

Another important thing about prioritizing is learning to delegate. Medical assistants should identify tasks that they alone can complete and should delegate less important tasks to others. Medical assistants in larger practices may need to delegate more tasks than medical assistants in small offices.


Self-motivation is an important part of multitasking. Medical assistants will have a certain amount of freedom regarding which tasks to do and at which times. They should be motivated to make the most of their time and be as productive as possible. The most self-motivated people enjoy the process of working in and of itself.

Being self-motivated helps a medical assistant juggle multiple tasks at a time and multiple patients with phone triage. Self-motivation can also help medical assistants develop unique productivity systems that help them streamline their daily tasks. Self-motivation might manifest as ambition to take on bigger projects and get better results.


Self-discipline is essential to effective multitasking. When medical assistants are performing multiple tasks at one time, it’s easy to get distracted. Their focus might be pulled from important tasks to less important busywork.

It’s important to recognize when a medical assistant is distracted from the task at hand. Good multitaskers can redirect their attention when necessary.

If medical assistants are called away from their desk to help with a lab procedure, they should be able to return and continue their work like they weren’t interrupted in the first place.

Ability to Problem Solve

Not only is the ability to problem solve important to be a good multitasker, but it’s also important to be a good medical assistant. When medical assistants are shifting between different priorities, mistakes are an inevitable part of the process. They should do their best to minimize mistakes, but they should also know how to handle them when mistakes do arise.

Problem solving skills allow medical assistants to approach a mistake like a unique challenge. They come up with a solution that both fixes the mistake and helps avoid further issues in the future.

When people don’t have problem solving skills, mistakes can cause them to freeze up and shut down. Not only does this impact productivity, but it has a huge impact on quality of patient care in health care settings.


Enthusiasm is another important quality to bring to the workplace. It’s another quality that is helpful for every aspect of a medical assistant’s career, from multitasking to patient interaction. When medical assistants are enthusiastic about their job, they have an easier time relating to patients and assisting the health care professional in their workplace.

Medical assistants tend to work closely with both doctors and their patients. A sense of enthusiasm can boost the morale and mood of people around them.

In a health care environment, an enthusiastic attitude can define the difference between a good and bad patient experience. Health care professionals also find their jobs easier when their medical assistants can offer emotional support in addition to administrative assistance.

How to Become a Better Multitasker

There are a number of tips you can use to train your brain to multitask more efficiently. Multitasking is a skill, not an inherent quality. Anyone who is willing to practice can learn to multitask.

Tip 1: Make to-do lists and sort them by priority.
A to-do list is a simple tool, but it makes a huge difference in productivity. Each day, medical assistants should have a list of the tasks that need to be completed. Once they have done that, they should sort the tasks by priority. Ideally, if medical assistants have productivity systems in place, they can avoid having overdue tasks pile up.

Tip 2: Do all the similar tasks at once.
One of the most helpful things a medical assistant can do is to complete similar tasks all at once. It’s easier for the brain to switch between related activities than to go back and forth between completely unrelated tasks.

Here are some examples.

  • Taking care of patient communications like phone triage, answering emails, and scheduling appointments
  • Dealing with software related tasks like bookkeeping, data entry, and updating records
  • Completing clinic related duties between patient appointments, rather than interrupting administrative duties to do clinic maintenance

Tip 3: Minimize distractions.
A medical assistant should try to minimize distractions as much as possible. As a medical assistant, there are some distractions that won’t be easy to avoid. For example, medical assistants might not be able to predict when they will be called upon to help with an exam, and they don’t know when the phone will ring.

However, there are some distractions a medical assistant can avoid. Many workplaces have filters to block social media. A medical assistant should avoid social media sites during work hours. A medical assistant should also minimize idle chatter with coworkers.

If they can, medical assistants should try to find a place to work that’s free of distracting background noise. Depending on the setting, they may be able to complete some administrative tasks while listening to music.

Tip 4: Get into the habit of switching between tasks.
Multitasking is a skill that requires practice. The best way to practice is by making it a habit to switch between tasks. While waiting to help answer the phone, a medical assistant can work on other clerical tasks.

Medical assistants don’t have to limit this to the workplace, either. If they are still studying, a medical assistant can use multitasking to help prioritize and complete assignments. Multitasking can also be used in basic day-to-day life to do things like cleaning, running errands, and doing other household maintenance chores.

Habits are actions that happen automatically because medical assistants are so used to them. If they’re in the habit of multitasking, they won’t need to spend heaps of time training their brain. Medical assistants will also find it easier to focus on all the tasks they are doing, which minimizes the amount of potential time lost.

Tip 5: Take breaks to review important information.
There is one big potential drawback to multitasking. It has a negative effect on memory.

People who multitask can sometimes forget the information they just processed, and they may not retain important data on a long-term basis. For multitasking to be effective, a medical assistant needs to understand the memory’s limits and the amount of information that can be absorbed.

Medical assistants often need to absorb and analyze important information about patients, doctors, and their overall practice. If they are working with information they will need to know later, it’s okay to take a break from multitasking and focus on that important info.

Tip 6: Plan with the future in mind.
A medical assistant may have prioritized tasks, but effective multitasking isn’t as simple as doing each task in exact order of priority. Instead, a medical assistant needs to plan for the future. If medical assistants are working for several hours, too many easy tasks can make them bored, while too many hard tasks can exhaust a medical assistant.

It’s best to start with the tasks that require the most energy. Once a tough task is finished, medical assistants can take a break by doing a more mindless chore. They can also amass resources to help them with later tasks.

Final Thoughts

Medical assisting is a demanding career path with high rewards. If you’re training to be a medical assistant, learning to multitask will help you in both a clinical and administrative setting.

Don’t worry if you’re not good at multitasking yet. As long as you have a passion for your chosen career, you can teach yourself any necessary skills. Multitasking is just one of them.

Did learning about multitasking and phone triage as a medical assistant interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical assisting field?

The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.

The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship at a medical facility where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

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