Interested in working with healthcare colleagues as a team that care about their patients? Healthcare is a team effort and the medical assistant works alongside many healthcare professionals to offer the best care available to their patients.
What is a Medical Assistant?
According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, Medical assistants are healthcare professionals that work alongside physicians, nurses and other medical professionals in medical offices, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and ambulatory care facilities.
Medical assistants are the liaisons within the healthcare team. They help the team communicate since they are often the first contact a new patient has with the healthcare team. The medical assistant will often take responsibility for directing, informing and guiding patients through the healthcare environment.
Medical assistants are cross-trained to perform both clerical and clinical duties. They are usually the first person that a new patient meets when they enter a physician’s office or healthcare facility. It is important for them to make a good first impression by keeping a professional appearance and positive attitude.
Some clerical duties a medical assistant is responsible for include:
- Using computer applications to manage documents, appointments, physician’s schedules and electronic medical records
- Answering phone calls from patients, laboratories and other physician’s offices
- Greeting patients and escorting them to the exam room
- Updating and filing patient medical records, both paper and electronic
- Coding, filling out and processing insurance billing and claims forms
- Scheduling appointments in person and over the phone
- Managing basic bookkeeping for the physician’s office
Some clinical duties a medical assistant is responsible for include:
- Taking medical histories to determine patient risk factors
- Measuring vital signs including temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate
- Explaining diagnostic and treatment procedures to patients
- Preparing patients for procedures and exams
- Assisting the physician during exams with medical instruments and supplies
- Collecting, preparing and delivering specimens to in-house and outside laboratories
- Performing basic laboratory tests including phlebotomy and EKG
- Instructing and educating patients about medication and nutrition
- Transmitting prescription refills as directed by the physician
- Removing sutures and changing dressings
The Healthcare Team
There are many different people in all types of healthcare roles that a medical assistant will work with to offer the best care for their patients. They can include physicians, primary care physicians, physician’s assistants, phlebotomists, registered nurses, nurse’s assistants, hospitalists, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, anesthesiologist assistants, clinical laboratory technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, emergency medical technicians, and occupational therapists.
Physicians – doctors who have completed further training in a healthcare specialty to diagnose and manage patient’s medical problems. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians examine patients, take medical histories, and prescribe medications. They can order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests. They may also order tests for nurses to perform. The physician will recommend and design a plan of treatment. The medical assistant will work closely with the physician in a doctor’s office. The medical assistant will manage the physician’s schedule, schedule patient appointments, escort the physician’s patients to the exam room, answer phones and manage billing.
Primary Care Physician – according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, primary care is provided by physicians specifically trained for and skilled in comprehensive first contact and continuing care for person with any undiagnosed sign, symptom or health concern not limited by problem origin, organ system or diagnosis. Medical assistants work as a team in a primary care physician’s offices answering the phone, scheduling appointments, greeting and escorting patients to the exam rooms and processing billing.
Physician’s Assistant – a medical professional that operates under the supervision of the physician and share patient care responsibilities with the physician. The physician’s assistant examines, counsels and educates patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the physician’s assistant takes and reviews patients’ medical histories. They order and interpret diagnostic tests, examine patients, diagnose injury or illness, give treatment and prescribe medicine. There is some overlap between a medical assistant and a physician’s assistant. However, the medical assistant does not examine a patient, diagnosis illness, or prescribe medicine.
Phlebotomist – many medical assistant programs train medical assisting students to perform phlebotomy. In a hospital setting, medical specialist facility or clinic, a person’s sole job may be to draw blood for diagnostic laboratory testing. The medical assistant may work with the phlebotomist to draw blood and deliver specimens to the laboratory as ordered by the physician.
Registered Nurse – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the registered nurse provides and coordinates patient care, educates patients about proper healthcare, and provides support to patients and their families. The registered nurse will assess a patient’s condition, record medical histories and symptoms, administer medication and treatments, set up patient’s plan for care, operate and monitor medical equipment, perform diagnostic tests, analyze those diagnostic tests, educate patients on management of illness and injuries and educate patients about proper home care.
Nurse’s Assistant – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nurse’s assistant provides basic care for patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The nurse’s assistant is responsible for cleaning and bathing the patient, helping the patient dress and use the bathroom, reposition patients while in bed, measure patient vital signs, serve meals, record patient’s concerns and report the patient’s information to the nurse. Both a nurse’s assistant and medical assistant are proficient in measuring vital signs.
Hospitalist – are responsible for the patient throughout the hospital stay. They are the single point of decision making for the patient while working with their primary care physician for treatment, communication and medication administration. The entire team of healthcare professionals at a hospital that are providing care for the patient will report to the hospitalist.
Pharmacist – licensed by the state to prepare and dispense medication and medical supplies. The medical assistant works with the pharmacist to properly dispense medication prescribed by the physician.
Pharmacy Technician – assists the pharmacist with preparation and administration of medications. Like a medical assistant, they also perform clerical duties including reception management and billing. The medical assistant may work with the pharmacy technician to manage the ordering of the medication prescribed by the patient’s physician.
Anesthesiologist Assistant – performs airway management, drug administration for induction and maintenance of anesthesia during surgery under the strict supervision of an anesthesiologist. An anesthesiologist assistant may work with a medical assistant to maintain electronic health records to provide a complete health history of the patient.
Clinical Laboratory Technician – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the clinical laboratory technician performs all routine tasks in a medical lab. They are responsible for collecting samples and performing tests to analyze bodily fluids, tissue and other substances. The medical assistant may coordinate specimen with the clinical laboratory technician for delivery and testing.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the diagnostic medical sonographer operates special imaging equipment to create images of the patient and conduct tests. Like medical assistants, the diagnostic medical sonographer prepares patients for procedures by documenting medical history and answering any questions the patient has before the procedure.
Emergency Medical Technician (Paramedic) – recognizes, assess and manages medical emergencies of ill or injured patients before they arrive at the hospital.
Occupational Therapist – according to The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc, the occupational therapist helps people of all ages through the therapeutic use of daily activities. They promote health and prevent injury, illness or disability. The occupational therapist works to help children with disabilities, people recovering from injury and older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. The occupational therapist will oversee a therapy team and may interact with medical assistants to coordinate the best care for their patients.
Locations Healthcare Teams Work
There are many different locations that a medical assistant will work with their healthcare colleagues including a physician’s office, hospital, emergency room, clinic, urgent care, or long-term care facility.
Physician’s Office – a medical facility where one or more doctors will receive and treat patients. Medical assistants manage the patient, schedule appointments, process billing, and do many other clerical and clinical duties at the physician’s office.
Hospital – an institution providing medical and surgical treatment and nursing care for sick or injured people. They deliver services to patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The medical assistant will work alongside teams of nurses and doctors to perform clerical and administrative tasks.
Emergency Room – the department of a hospital that provides immediate treatment for acute illnesses and trauma. A medical assistant may work the front desk, manage billing, schedule appointments, check in and out patients, take vital signs and prepare the patient for ER examination.
Clinic – a walk-in facility that offers treatment to minor injuries and illnesses including flu and cold, strep throat, minor cuts and other less advanced procedures. For those without insurance, a walk-in clinic may be a less costly way to see a doctor. The medical assistant may work in a clinic to manage patients, educate them on home care and process billing.
Urgent Care – offer services to patients that don’t present a life-threatening illness or injury while a physician’s office may be closed or not available for appointment. The urgent care fills in the gap between primary care physicians and emergency rooms. Like a physician’s office or hospital, the medical assistant will be responsible for greeting patients, answering phones, scheduling appointments and processing billing.
Long-Term Care Facilities – include nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living to provide medical and personal care services to those unable to perform everyday activities including bathing, dressing, feeding and medication administration, among others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 4 million Americans are admitted to or reside in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities each year. Some long-term care is temporary for rehabilitation from a hospital stay and others are ongoing for chronic medical conditions. The medical assistant may work with patients in their home, at an assisted living facility, hospice facility or nursing home.
Medical Assistant Associations & Government Resources
There are many different resources that can help medical assistants further their knowledge in the healthcare field. Some of those medical assistant associations and government resources include the American Association of Medical Assistants, American Medical Technologists, National Center for Competency Testing and the Health Resources & Services Administration.
American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) – “the mission is to provide the medical assistant professional with education, certification, credential acknowledgement, networking opportunities, scope-of-practice protection, and advocacy for quality patient-centered health care.”
American Medical Technologists (AMT) – an internationally recognized certification agency and membership society for allied health professionals, including medical assistants and medical administrative specialists.
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) – an independent credentialing organization that tests healthcare professionals and instructors for certification. To maintain active certification status, a medical assistant must complete continuing education activities annually.
Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA) – coordinates and manages data collection, analysis and evaluation for the Bureau of Health Workforce. The HRSA also offers health care providers and teachers with grants, scholarships and loans for those working in underserved areas to promote primary care.
Becoming a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
After graduation from a career college as a medical assistant, advancement usually requires becoming a Registered Medical Assistant (RMA). To obtain these certifications the medical assistant must gain membership with a professional healthcare organization and may be required to complete continuing education courses. Here are resources for medical assistant students to prepare for a career as a Registered Medical Assistant in the healthcare field.
The American Registry of Medical Assistants (ARMA) – helps a graduate become a Registered Medical Assistant. The ARMA also provides continuing education units that are mandatory to stay certified as a registered medical assistant. The ARMA registers medical assistants however they do not certify medical assistants. In order to belong to the ARMA, members must be recommended by the director or representative of a licensed, accredited career college or have a recommendation from their employer after three years on-the-job experience as a medical assistant.
American Health Care Association (AHCA) – an association of state health organizations that represent nursing facilities and assisted living providers.
Did learning about the healthcare team interest you in becoming a medical assistant? Ready to start a Medical Assistant Program? Mildred Elley offers a Medical Assistant Program that prepares students for entry-level positions in physician’s offices, clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities as a medical assistant. The Medical Assistant Program helps develop the skills necessary to excel in the healthcare industry.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming a medical assistant.