Wondering how the pandemic has changed the administrative duties of a medical office assistant? Medical office assistants still handle a broad range of duties in a health care setting, but with the pandemic came additional responsibilities that may forever be part of their new normal workday.
Here’s a closer look at their traditional role and the latest tasks to be added to their job description.
What Do Medical Office Assistants Do?
Medical office assistants manage administrative tasks in health care offices so clinical professionals can be more attentive to patients. They’re the logistics specialists who keep busy schedules running smoothly. Their many duties include these.
Answering the Telephone
Medical office assistants don’t answer clinical questions, but they have enough of a health background to know which provider can best address a client’s inquiry. Private practices field hundreds of calls per day, so quality care depends on accurate messages delivered on time.
Medical office assistants also handle callers’ nonclinical queries from practice hours to payment policies, tackling as many as possible to save the clinical staff’s time.
Managing the Schedule
There’s much more to scheduling doctors’ visits than meets the eye. In an extensive practice, medical office assistants may juggle multiple providers’ schedules, as well as troubleshoot equipment and staffing needs for dozens of appointments, plus emergencies. Office assistants must know which resources each visit requires.
Maintaining the Reception Area
Medical office assistants are ambassadors of first impressions. They’re the first to greet clients upon their arrival, so professionalism is a must. Patients expect a clean, hospitable waiting area. Many are ill and depend on office assistants to monitor their condition and inform clinical staff if they develop troubling symptoms. As the team members stationed closest to the door, the safety and comfort of the waiting area are under the exclusive purview of the medical office assistant.
Working With Medical Records
A significant part of a medical office assistant’s administrative duties is data entry. Accuracy is essential because even the simplest mistakes can cause dangerous medical errors. A medical office assistant also manages the flow of confidential data between doctors and facilities, assisting with referrals and obtaining records from consulting physicians.
Insurance and Billing
Hospitals and multi-physician practices usually hire billing specialists to manage insurance claims, but the process is complex, and medical office assistants can help in many ways, from verifying insurance information to collecting copayments. With training in billing and coding, many are more involved in the billing process and assist with light accounting.
Doctors often resort to voice-recording notes for transcription when they’re busy, especially when seeing patients in the hospital. They can dictate on the move, allowing them to use travel time to keep accurate records of their visits.
Medical office assistants transcribe those notes into patients’ records. Their training in anatomy and medical terminology helps them decipher soundalike terms.
Medical office assistants are responsible for ordering clinical and office supplies. It’s a large expenditure for most offices, so it requires sticking to a budget and looking for the best prices.
Practice management software tracks inventory in real time, so placing orders should be as simple as calling the vendor. But with a single catalog featuring over a thousand different types of bandages, it takes a keen eye to request the right products at the right price.
The Impact of COVID-19
For better or worse, COVID-19 has changed the way hospitals and doctors’ offices do business. The pandemic has affected nearly all administrative duties in some way, large or small. Medical office assistants have more responsibility, and while it’s more work, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity to contribute more to patients’ clinical care. Look for these changes in these areas to become a permanent part of a medical office assistant’s job description.
Managing the Switchboard
Pandemics are scary for the community. Doctors’ offices are clients’ primary source of medical information, so it’s not unusual for them to see an uptick in inquiries. With COVID-19, patients had been asked to limit its spread by phoning in questions instead of visiting an emergency room, so medical office assistants handled a much higher volume of calls.
Telemedicine was already increasing in popularity before COVID-19, but its use is reaching new highs. The government once limited payments for telehealth visits, but to ensure routine care isn’t delayed because of restrictions, consultations over the telephone or video call are now encouraged.
What does that mean for medical office assistants? It means doing the same check-in and check-out tasks as for in-person visits, but over the phone. They call patients a few minutes before their scheduled times to review demographic and insurance data. It’s similar to how hospitals preadmit patients, but on a tighter schedule. The doctor then forwards the call back to the assistant for payment and to schedule a follow-up visit.
It can be a very efficient process that limits patients’ exposure to COVID-19, but there’s little room for error, since wrapping up calls quickly is necessary to keep lines open for subsequent appointments. As in-person visits increase post-COVID, expect telemedicine to continue as an option.
Managing Patient Flow in the Reception Area
As long as some patients need in-person visits, there will be a need to manage how they interact with staff and other clients in the waiting room. Following strict infection control protocols has never been more critical.
Many medical office assistants are asked to take clients’ temperature as a screening measure when they arrive in addition to asking questions about potential symptoms, international travel, or recent exposures to people with COVID-19. The point is to identify high-risk patients so staff can take appropriate measures to protect themselves.
Obtaining timely reimbursement for existing claims ensures practices have sufficient cash flow to pay staff and keep the lights on. Medical office assistants help by lending a greater hand with billing.
While no one can be asked to perform duties that exceed their training or scope of practice, medical office assistants shouldn’t be surprised if they’re asked to take on new responsibilities, from restocking the bathroom with toilet paper to sanitizing the waiting area between visits from the cleaning crew. Any administrative tasks they can do give clinical staff more time to see patients and are an important part of working as a team.
Medical office assistants are valuable frontline health care workers. Their contribution is more than administrative, and the experience is fulfilling.
Ready for a rewarding career as a medical office assistant? 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.