Medical assisting isn’t a new field. It’s been recognized as a standard occupation since the mid-1950s, but as health care becomes more complex, the role is expanding and so is demand.
What are medical assistants, where do they work, and what role do they play on a health care team? Here’s a closer look.
A medical assistant is a versatile support professional trained to manage a broad range of clinical and administrative functions in a health care setting. Job descriptions may focus more on clinical or clerical responsibilities, but most medical assistants do both. It’s a dynamic and rewarding career.
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Medical assistants traditionally work in doctors’ offices, but opportunities are growing in hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers. Wherever doctors and nurses need a hand, a medical assistant can help. Nontraditional positions in health care related businesses such as insurance companies and medical supply outlets are also available.
What Is a Medical Assistant’s Role?
Medical assistants tackle the standard administrative and clinical tasks that are a necessary part of every health care visit but may not require the skills of a doctor or nurse.
From office management responsibilities and billing support to providing hands-on patient care, medical assistants work closely with licensed health care providers and serve as valuable liaisons between patients and their health care team.
Administrative duties may include managing the reception area, scheduling appointments, triaging telephone calls, greeting patients, assisting with billing, rooming patients, taking vital signs, measuring height and weight, managing medical records, obtaining specimens, performing medical tests, assisting with treatments and procedures, maintaining equipment, and providing patient education.
Managing the Reception Area
Medical assistants are ambassadors of first impressions. A clean, well-organized reception area gives patients confidence in their providers. Maintaining safe, comfortable conditions and promoting privacy are top priorities, as well as ensuring adaptive equipment is available for patients with impaired mobility.
Doctors and nurses are busy. Maintaining a standard schedule allows them to see more patients, decreases waiting room time, and improves productivity and revenue.
Medical assistants help by guiding patients through a standard scheduling process, streamlining necessary documentation and managing practice resources so that providers can make the most of their time.
Triaging Telephone Calls
When clients call to ask questions or report symptoms, it’s part of a medical assistant’s role to direct inquiries to the most appropriate provider.
As part of a medical assistant training program, students learn about symptoms and how to identify those that need immediate attention. Medical assistants can offer general guidance, but when an illness is serious, getting information to the right doctor or nurse saves time and helps the patient get prompt and effective care.
Medical assistants are often the first people patients see when they visit their provider. As the health care team’s representative, a medical assistant is expected to be knowledgeable, professional, and courteous, providing superior customer service with a smile.
Assisting with Billing
Accuracy on insurance forms is a must for efficient billing. Medical assistants help by letting back office support staff know which procedures were performed and which supplies were used during a patient’s visit, bridging the gap between the clinical and business aspects of medicine.
Medical assistants are responsible for maintaining examination rooms and preparing patients for their visit. From ensuring standard sanitary conditions to stocking the right equipment, a well prepared environment helps streamline the process and ensures the doctor has everything necessary to provide care.
Patients also require preparation. Because many may be stressed or even in pain when they arrive, a medical assistant’s friendly and empathetic approach puts them at ease and sets the stage for a comfortable and relaxed interaction.
Taking Vital Signs
Vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure are standard clinical indicators of health. As part of each visit, a medical assistant screens for irregularities before patients meet with the doctor.
Measuring Height and Weight
Like vital signs, changes in height and weight can indicate medical issues. Being an inch shorter than at a prior visit may signal a condition such as osteoporosis, while gaining or losing even a few pounds can indicate a range of serious health complications. Measuring height and weight is a simple clinical task, but it’s a valuable screening tool, and doctors also depend on it for prescribing certain types of medication.
Managing Medical Records
Keeping detailed records is a standard part of providing quality care. At each visit, it’s a medical assistant’s role to verify demographic and insurance information, update allergy and medication lists, and document new symptoms.
When a doctor writes orders, medical assistants ensure they are correctly transcribed, and if a referral is recommended, they manage the transfer of records between providers.
It’s part of the role of medical assistants to obtain specimens, including blood and urine, as part of a health care visit. They instruct patients on the collection process and offer hands-on support when necessary.
In some states and with the right training, medical assistants can draw blood and perform simple in-house laboratory tests. In other cases, they may be responsible for processing and preserving samples for shipment to specialty labs.
Performing Medical Tests
Many tests that once required a trip to the hospital can now be performed in a clinic or doctor’s office. Medical assistants assist with testing based on the setting.
In a cardiology practice, for example, medical assistants perform tests like electrocardiography (EKG). In an obstetrics practice, they may monitor fetal heart rate and assist with ultrasounds.
Assisting with Treatments and Procedures
Part of a medical assistant’s role may be to assist with minor surgical procedures and treatments, like suture removal and dressing changes. From gathering the required supplies to serving as an extra pair of hands for the doctor or nurse, a medical assistant is often asked to participate in hands-on medical care.
Medical assistants work with advanced equipment, and part of their role is to ensure it’s sanitized and well-maintained. Maintenance and sanitation schedules for certain types of equipment are regulated by law to protect patients, and it takes a strong sense of organization and attention to detail to keep them on track.
Providing Patient Education
As team representatives, everything medical assistants do matters, but their most important role is to serve as a liaison between patient and provider. With both clinical and administrative training, medical assistants serve as patients’ primary point of contact, using their skills to answer patients’ questions directly or to refer them to the appropriate provider.
Becoming a Medical Assistant
To be prepared for this important role, education is critical. Once, medical assistants could receive all the training they needed on the job, but today, employers prefer to hire graduates of accredited training programs.
The good news is that this is a fast way to launch a career in health care. Vocational school programs are accessible and can be completed in less than eight months for students attending full time.
A combination of classroom instruction in subjects including blood draws, EKG, anatomy, pharmacology, and medical terminology—plus supervised experiences in off-campus clinical settings—gives students the foundation they need for success.
Preparation for national certification exams is part of the training, but while certification isn’t required to become a medical assistant, it’s fast becoming the standard, and it paves the way for career advancement.
In addition to school admissions requirements, the only other prerequisites to becoming a medical assistant are compassion and enthusiasm for helping others. Education and the willingness to learn take care of the rest.
As ultimate support specialists, medical assistants are increasingly vital members of the health care team, and with the right training, a new career as a respected medical professional is just months away.
Did learning about the role in standard of care of 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 in an actual medical work environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.