Want to work in a medical office? Are you computer savvy? If not, don’t worry. You can learn most of the computer skills that you will need by attending a medical office assisting program at a vocational school. Medical offices do nearly everything on computers. From scheduling to tracking inventory, medical office assistants need sound computer skills to keep up. If you are interested in becoming a medical office assistant, here is a closer look at how you use this technology and how it impacts nearly every part of your job.
What Do Medical Office Assistants Do?
Medical office assistants manage front office tasks in a healthcare setting. They work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, clinics, and other medical-related environments. It’s a non-clinical role with many tech-heavy responsibilities including:
Medical office assistants handle most of the non-clinical communication between doctors and patients. They answer phone calls and e-mails, fielding general questions about practice hours, and policies. When the practice wants to reach out to patients, medical office assistants use word processing software to draft letters, create presentations and send faxes.
Managing the Schedule
Staying on a tight schedule helps the clinical staff stay productive, so gone are the days of tracking appointments on paper. Most offices use a computerized scheduling system to fill time slots.
Medical office assistants can check for openings by provider or service to ensure the right equipment and support staff are available based on the client’s needs. It’s an efficient process if you know how to make the most of the software’s functions.
Checking Patients In
Medical office assistants collect data from patients as soon as they arrive for their appointment. The data collected as part of the check-in process helps generate the encounter documentation that tracks charges for the entire visit.
By verifying demographic information and insurance policy numbers before clients are seen, physicians have the most up-to-date details with which to make clinical decisions. Medical office assistants access computerized medical records dozens of times each day.
Medical office assistants still do some physical filing, but most information is recorded in patients’ electronic health records (EHR). Paper documents, such as insurance forms, living wills, powers-of-attorney and prior health records, are scanned into the system, creating digital replicas.
Billing & Insurance
Medical office assistants work primarily in the front office, but they also support back-office tasks by ensuring the data they enter when patient check-in is complete. As a medical office assistant, you will be trained to help with billing tasks, such as invoicing, during your downtime. Most billing is done with computerized accounting software, like QuickBooks.
Most medical offices have real-time inventory tracking systems, allowing assistants to order both office and clinical supplies. In some offices, supplies are scanned by bar code, automatically creating lists for reorder. Office assistants take an active role in maintaining inventory and should be familiar with these computerized systems.
Medical office assistants are trained to handle a wide range of clerical duties, including light accounting. As a medical office assistant, you will collect patient payments, posting them to the right accounts. Computer software makes it simple, but knowledge of basic accounting practices is still required.
What Computer Skills are Needed for Medical Office Assisting?
Medical office assistants use a broad range of computer software. Vocational school programs cover the most popular applications, including:
The Microsoft Office suite contains three of the world’s most ubiquitous productivity applications:
Word – a premier word processor. Released by Microsoft in 1983, it allows a medical office assistant to create professional-quality documents including letters and reports. Features include grammar and spell checks, text and font formatting and advanced page layouts. Practices use Word for nearly all office communication.
Excel – a computerized spreadsheet used for storing, organizing and manipulating data using formulas and functions. Excel helps medical facilities with data management, accounting, finances, and time management. Medical office assistants might use Excel to keep track of equipment and provider time off.
PowerPoint – create powerful presentations using both text and graphics. Practices use it to create educational material for staff and patients.
Electronic Health Records
An electronic health record is the systematic collection of patients’ medical data. It includes everything about a patient:
- Medical history
- Vital signs
- Medication lists
- Diagnostic test results
- Radiology images
- Billing information
Dozens of companies offer EHR software, and medical office assisting programs can only cover a few. But most work on the same principles, so once you know the ropes, it’s easy to learn a new program.
Practice Management Software
The computerized functions in a medical office can be handled with different programs, but some practices use all-in-one practice management software to tackle everything from billing to human resources. Like EHR software, it’s offered by many vendors and the platforms are similar.
The most popular billing software among small practices is QuickBooks. Developed by Intuit, it’s a complete accounting package that helps businesses manage billing, inventory and payroll.
Used by medical offices to simplify the accounting process, it tracks:
Accounts receivable — money patients or vendors owe
Accounts payable — what the practice owes to creditors
Assets — resources the practice owns, like buildings and equipment
Liabilities — financial obligations, such as loan payments
Revenue — how much money is collected from patients before expenses are deducted
Expenses — bills paid for the purpose of generating revenue
Medical office assistants are most likely to work with accounts receivable and accounts payable functions but may assist office managers with year-end financial reports.
What Soft Skills are Needed to Support Computer Skills?
Computers are just a tool used in the service of patients. Technical skills are important, but they’re not enough. Medical office assistants need soft skills to bridge the gap, including:
Skill #1: Comfort with Technology
Medical practices rely on technology to optimize efficiency. Office assistants should feel comfortable around computers and basic office equipment, such as copiers and fax machines. Few medical offices were fully computerized before 2000, so it’s still new for some practices. Day by day, the integration of technology grows deeper, so being comfortable with it helps you manage changes and be a mentor for others.
Skill #2: Attention to Detail
Computers can help minimize human errors by cuing users to correct obvious mistakes, such as a numbers entered in a field that requires a text-only value. But its performance is only as good as the data entered. If it’s not accurate, neither is the outcome. Attention to detail is critical.
Skill #3: Communication Skills
As a medical office assistant, you’ll spend as much time talking about what’s on the computer as you will working with it. You’ll help patients schedule appointments and understand their bills. The ability to translate what you see on the screen into simple explanations a patient understands can be challenging. Good communication skills are a must.
Skill #4: Confidentiality
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, strictly regulates who can access patients’ personal medical data. Violations can result in stiff fines for employers and job loss for staff. Since medical office assistants work with electronic health records daily, they need to safeguard information by securing password-protected computers and handling sensitive details with care.
Skill #5: Problem Solving Skills
As a medical office assistant, you will be a problem solver. You will use computers to understand problems and help patients do the same. You will try to anticipate tough situations, so you can act proactively. For example, if you see a patient who has an outstanding bill and an upcoming appointment, you might call the patient in advance to remind them they have a balance and clarify payment expectations.
Behind every successful medical practice is a computer-savvy office assistant who keeps things running smoothly. The good news for students who aren’t experienced with computers is that medical office assisting programs are geared toward beginners and teach both technical and soft skills. In a few short months, you could be prepared for an exciting new career in a growing industry, so lay any fears of computers to rest. If you’re ready to learn, the right training program will take care of the rest.
Do you have the computer skills to become 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, billing and coding.
Contact us today to find out more on how to become a medical office assistant on Long Island.