What Is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and a Medical Office Assistant?

Medicine is a broad field. Whether your talents are clinical, administrative or both, there’s a job for you on the front lines of healthcare. Two up-and-coming careers, medical assistant and medical office administration, sound similar, but they’re not the same. Let’s explore which of these two jobs is right for you.

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

A Medical Assistant has clinical and clerical responsibilities. A blended role, they spend time with both patients and paperwork. Unlike medical office assistant, clinical tasks come first. However, many of their administrative responsibilities overlap. It’s a great career choice for someone who enjoys both patient care and administration. The job includes:


While front office staff handle routine scheduling, medical assistants help with urgent care requests. Working closely with doctors, they have a better feel for what sick patients need.

In a collaborative effort, medical assistants and medical office assistant each bring their unique talents to the table, working together to keep the practice running smoothly.

Triaging Phone Calls

Medical assistants represent the clinical team. When patients call with clinical questions, medical assistants use their health training to troubleshoot symptoms, collecting information from patients with which doctors can make treatment decisions.

Rooming Patients

Medical assistants escort clients to treatment areas and prepare them for their visit. The goal is to save time by performing clinical and administrative pre-screening tasks from taking vital signs to updating medical records before the doctor arrives.

Obtaining Vital Signs

Vital signs help providers diagnose health issues and calculate medication dosages; accuracy is critical. Medical assistants take the patient’s temperature, pulse, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation before each visit.

Performing Diagnostic Tests

Most routine diagnostic tests can now be done in-house instead of sending patients to the hospital. Medical assistants perform electrocardiograms, pacemaker checks, Tuberculosis tests, and pregnancy screens.

Drawing Blood

Offering on-site phlebotomy helps doctors get the data they need faster. Medical assistants are trained to handle most blood draws and sample processing.

Wound Care

Medical assistants don’t assess wounds, but they can apply dry dressings to cuts and scrapes and assist with other aspects of wound care.

Assisting with Procedures

Medical assistants set up the tools and equipment doctors need to perform minor surgical procedures in the office. They pass instruments, monitor the patient, and handle the cleanup.

Infection Control

Medical offices harbor more than average germs. Medical assistants keep them from spreading by sanitizing exam rooms, disinfecting equipment, and sterilizing instruments.

Ordering Supplies

A medical assistant may stock shelves, so no one knows better which supplies are low. Working with the front office staff, they place orders and manage inventory.

Educating Patients

Medical assistants serve as liaisons between patients and doctors, relaying information and reinforcing the plan of care. They can’t offer medical advice, but they can answer simple clinical questions and help patients better understand the doctor’s treatment recommendations. Examples include reviewing pre surgical instructions and how to prepare for diagnostic tests.

Office Procedures

Medical office assistants handle most of the faxing, filing and recordkeeping in a medical setting. However, medical assistants help with a range of tasks from referrals to updating health records. Multi-taskers, they may help to answer phones, fill out insurance forms, and process payments.

What Does a Medical Office Assistant Do?

Medical office assistants work with patients, families, and administrators, but they have a uniquely administrative role with no clinical responsibilities. Their duties include:

Managing the Switchboard

Medical office assistants handle incoming calls on multiple lines, answering general questions while routing clinical calls to the most appropriate team member.


Managing the schedule in a busy medical office is a team effort. Medical office assistants take the calls, but they collaborate with medical assistants to ensure that sick patients are seen promptly while keeping the day on track. More than just making appointments, it’s a dynamic task that requires quick thinking and good communication skills.

Greeting Patients

Ambassadors of first impressions, medical office assistants welcome patients and make them feel cared for while updating their demographic and insurance data. Although they have no clinical responsibilities, they also keep a close eye on patients in the waiting room.

Managing Medical Records

Medical office assistants manage the organization and storage of electronic and paper health records.

Vocational programs cover databases, such as Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Electronic Health Records (EHR), faxing and filing procedures, patient privacy regulations and the use of practice management software.

Medical Coding

Medical codes are alphanumeric shorthand for symptoms, diagnoses, equipment, and supplies. Used to streamline insurance forms, they condense stacks of records into a page or two.

Coding begins at check-in when paperwork is created for the visit. Medical office assistants, medical assistants, doctors, and billing assistants all work together to ensure accuracy so that claims are paid on time.


Enormous amounts of health data are transferred daily between patients, primary care providers, assistants, laboratories, and insurers. A medical office assistant job is to make sure it’s complete, timely and secure.


Medical office assistants share billing duties with the back office. Working with practice administrators and billing specialists, they help manage insurance claims, collect copayments, and create financial reports.

Where Do Medical Assistants and Medical Office Assistants work?

Medical assistants and medical office assistants work in similar settings, but their responsibilities differ.

Private Practices

In doctor’s offices, medical office assistants oversee front office tasks while directing workflow. Supervised by office managers and practice administrators, they support patients and clinical staff.

Medical assistants are part of the clinical and administrative teams. Supervised by physicians, nurses, and office managers, they support the front office and licensed medical staff.


Hospitals employ medical office assistants to help with check-ins, billing, scheduling, and recordkeeping. Most serve as patient representatives.

Medical assistants can work in similar roles. However, they’re more likely to take on clinical tasks in outpatient departments, such as ambulatory surgery units or wound care departments.


Smaller than hospitals, clinics hire medical office assistants to manage front- and back-office tasks. Part of the administrative team, they handle the paperwork from check-in to payment.

Medical assistants usually work in more clinical roles, taking vital signs and rooming patients. but in a close-knit environment, responsibilities may overlap. Teamwork is key.

Medical Billing Services

Private practices are increasingly outsourcing their billing needs to independent services that manage invoices, insurance claims, and payment tracking for hundreds of facilities. It’s the perfect job for medical office assistants who enjoy number crunching.

Medical assistants are also qualified for the role, but it’s mostly clerical and makes limited use of their clinical know-how. There’s virtually no patient contact.

What Is the Easiest Way to Become a Medical Assistant or Medical Office Assistant?

Because healthcare is so complex, a diploma or degree is the standard. Employers prefer trained applicants with proven skills and dedication to their field. Without a diploma or experience, getting ahead is tough.

However, you can succeed by attending a vocational program, like Medical Assistant Classes available at the Hunter Business School. The curriculum is comprehensive but focused, so you get out of school and into the field quickly. Getting a vocational school education is one common route to a new career and a brighter future.

How Long Are Vocational Programs for Each?

Students attending full-time can become medical assistants in seven months. It takes just five months to complete the medical office administration program.

Final Thoughts

Career choices should be made based on aptitude and preferences. What inspires you? What makes you happy? Think about it and then call your local vocational school. A rewarding healthcare career could be just weeks away.

Want to Learn More?

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 environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.

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 assistant or medical office administrative assistant on Long Island.