Medical assistants play a critical role in healthcare offices. Involved in nearly every activity in some capacity, no two days are ever alike. Responsibilities vary based on where you work and in what position, but time management is a must because there’s a lot to accomplish. Here’s a closer look at a day in the life of a medical assistant.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants are support specialists. Allied health professionals manage a broad range of clinical and administrative functions in healthcare settings. Some jobs are more clinical than administrative or vice versa, but most medical assistants have broad-reaching responsibilities, such as:
Maintaining a tight schedule minimizes patient wait times while improving productivity. Medical assistants work closely with the front office crew and providers to manage practice resources, including time.
A medical assistant is the first member of the clinical team to see patients after they arrive. An ambassador of first impressions, they’re responsible for making people feel welcomed and cared for as they’re escorted to treatment rooms.
Preparing Patients for Exams
Medical assistants prepare patients for exams and treatments by explaining procedures, answering questions, helping them to change, if necessary, and collecting any biological specimens needed for testing.
Updating Health Histories
Medical assistants gather important clinical information on the provider’s behalf, including medical history, current symptoms, known allergies, new medications, and other details that contribute to the evaluation and treatment plan.
Taking Vital Signs
Doctors use vital signs to make diagnoses, calculate drug dosages and assess the effects of treatments. Medical assistants measure blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and peripheral oxygen saturation level before each exam.
Beyond updating health records, medical assistants manage entire paper and electronic recordkeeping systems, ensuring that documents remain accurate, well-organized, accessible, and secure.
Assisting with Procedures and Treatments
Medical assistants help surgeons perform minor surgery by setting up equipment, passing instruments, and monitoring patient comfort and safety. Under supervision, they also provide minor wound care, such as removing sutures and applying light dressings.
Healthcare facilities harbor dangerous and treatment-resistant pathogens. Medical assistants keep patients safe by sanitizing equipment, disinfecting surfaces, and sterilizing instruments.
Performing Diagnostic Tests
Many diagnostics that once required a hospital visit are now performed in office settings by medical assistants. Examples include electrocardiograms, pacemaker checks, pregnancy screens, fetal heart rate monitoring, and blood glucose checks. Medical assistants also draw blood and process samples under the supervision of a licensed clinician.
Coding and Billing
Medical assistants code the superbill created at check-in with the services and supplies used during an exam or procedure. Coding helps billing specialists obtain reimbursement from insurance companies. In some practices, medical assistants handle both clinical and billing tasks, submitting insurance claims, tracking payments, and invoicing patients for the balances due.
Medical assistants can’t offer medical advice, but they can provide patient education as the provider’s representative, helping patients better understand their diagnoses and treatment recommendations. Medical assistants handle most communication between patients and their doctors, triaging their concerns and relaying messages.
What Is the Typical Work Schedule for a Medical Assistant?
Medical assistants do so many different tasks that it’s tough to visualize an average day. And job descriptions vary significantly, so a typical shift is even harder to define.
A medical assistant working as a medical records specialist in a big city hospital will have very different duties than a medical assistant employed in a small doctor’s office. However, as a general medical assistant in private practice, here’s what you can expect to do:
Preparing for the Day
Medical assistants arrive for work early to plan for the day ahead. You’ll review patient charts, determine what equipment and supplies are needed for each scheduled visit and prepare it in advance. Once patients begin to arrive, downtime is minimal. You’ll plan your day based on how involved you’ll be with each patient and the other duties on your to-do list.
The practice management software used in most offices will help you organize the day to an extent, providing a list of tasks in priority order. On the clinical side, you’ll know:
- When patients are arriving
- Which procedures are scheduled?
- If the doctor wants a diagnostic test done before the patient is seen
- Which patients need overdue preventive services, such as flu shots?
- If blood tests were ordered or new test results are in
- Prescription refill requests
On the administrative end, you’ll see:
- Which insurance claims require follow-up?
- Low inventory items to reorder
- Appointments that need to be rescheduled
- Messages from patients
Knowing what the day holds is an essential part of planning and organization.
You’ll also identify flexible times in your schedule in which to manage the unexpected, emergencies happen, and quiet moments you can use to stock shelves, return client phone calls, and complete tasks that were interrupted. You may, for example, be asked to collect a urine sample or administer an injection while you’re processing blood samples. Effective prioritization is the key.
Managing Patient Flow
Your goal as a medical assistant is to optimize providers’ time by managing tasks that require skill but not the expertise of a doctor or nurse. You’ll essentially control the moment of patients in and out of exam rooms.
You’ll greet clients as they come in, perform routine clinical tasks, such as vital signs, wrap up recordkeeping duties, and provide ordered services, from EKGs to wound care. The speed and accuracy with which these tasks are done play a large part in how smoothly the schedule runs. If doctors can move quickly from room to room with few distractions, they can see more patients in a day.
There are certain times when doctors need an assistant in the exam room, such as during minor surgeries and certain diagnostic tests. As a medical assistant, you’ll need to be available at all times, but when is not always predictable. With experience, you’ll learn to recognize and plan ahead, taking precautions to minimize the impact of disruptions.
Infection control figures into most of your duties as a medical assistant. You’ll sanitize shared equipment and surfaces between each patient visit and screen people for signs of illness before bringing them into common areas. On a daily or weekly basis, you’ll sterilize surgical tools, instruments, and linens, creating procedure-ready packs.
Medical assistants update health records in real-time, entering data as it’s received. However, at the end of each day, there’s always a pile of paperwork to deal with from lab results and insurance forms to supply invoices and general mail. Managing the molehill daily keeps it from becoming a mountain.
Spare time in a doctor’s office is used to catch up on communication. You’ll return patient messages, call them with lab results and write correspondence. Typically, there will be prescription refills to transmit to the pharmacy, procedures to schedule, referrals to make and messages from colleagues to address. Making a call or two between patient arrivals is a good way to keep the list from becoming overwhelming.
Preparing for Tomorrow
Medical assistants end most days in the same way they started them, by preparing. You’ll close out charts, clean exam rooms, restock shelves, and review the next day’s schedule. For an early morning procedure, you may need to set up equipment in advance.
Ultimately, you’ll leave with things left on your to-do list. But as long as you prioritize and handle time-sensitive tasks first, you’ll never be behind.
Where Do Medical Assistants Work?
Medical assistants are employed in a variety of healthcare settings, including:
Opportunities for medical assistants are explained, but many medical assistants still work in doctor’s offices. It’s a general role in which you’ll perform clinical and administrative duties in collaboration with administrators and other healthcare professionals.
Hospitals hire medical assistants to fill a broad range of positions from unit clerks to medical records specialists. Roles tend to be more clerical than clinical because patients are sicker and need more attention from licensed providers. However, while you may not use all of your skills, you’ll learn about specific aspects of the profession in-depth. And the sheer number of jobs in a large facility means more advancement potential.
Outpatient clinics employ medical assistants in both clinical and administrative roles. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those with a passion for a particular field of medicine to pursue their dreams. If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of emergency care, for example, you’ll thrive in an urgent care clinic.
Long-Term Care Facilities
What medical assistants can do in nursing homes and assisted living centers are limited by state law. Most clinical tasks in these settings are reserved for nurses because the patients are medically complex. But many facilities hire medical assistants to fill administrative positions. Their clinical expertise makes them an asset in financial and recordkeeping roles.
Medical assistants also work in a wide array of medical business and non-healthcare facilities, including:
- Insurance companies
- Public health departments
- Summer camps
- Medical equipment stores
And as employers become more familiar with a medical assistant’s versatile skills, opportunities will only grow.
The first step to becoming a medical assistant is to complete a vocational school program. The comprehensive curriculum prepares you for an entry-level position and industry certification.
You’ll graduate in months instead of years with a diploma that qualifies you for many of the same jobs as college-educated applicants. Lifestyle-friendly schedules and perks, like career services, make it among the best values in education today.
One of the best parts about a medical assisting career is the flexibility. You can’t always control your schedule but can determine where and how you work it. If you are interested in becoming a medical assistant, let Hunter Business School help.
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 Assistant training program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, 9355 – 113th St. N, #7709 Seminole, FL 33775 upon the recommendation of the Medical Assisting Education Review Board (MAERB).