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What does a Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants are involved in many different administrative and clinical tasks. They may work in the hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other healthcare facilities, such as clinics or urgent care centers. An MA will perform a variety of duties that can change depending on his or her location and specialty, as well as the overall size of the practice.

Administrative Duties

Although it is possible to specialize in the administrative side of medical assisting and obtain the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant credential from the National Healthcareer Association, all medical assistants will be required to perform some administrative and front office duties. MAs share the responsibility of ensuring that a facility runs effectively and efficiently. The administrative duties that medical assistants perform are:

• Coordinating operations reports for payroll departments, which includes things like time worked and attendance.

• Updating and maintaining patient data.

• Answering telephone calls.

• Scheduling appointments.

• Maintaining files.

• Greeting patients upon arrival and assisting them with check-in procedures.

• Providing patients with forms to fill out and checking those forms prior to filing them.

• Taking identification and insurance information from patients.

• Reviewing and answering correspondence, including email and postal mail.

• Handling and entering lab results data into computer systems.

• Working with insurance companies to assist patients in filing claims or confirming coverage.

• Reordering, restocking, and organizing office supplies as necessary.


Clinical Duties

Some medical assistants also perform clinical back office duties that directly relate to patient care, as well. They work under the supervision of physicians to assist in delivering quality healthcare. Clinical duties that MAs may perform include:

• Preparing patients for their examinations by leading them to examination rooms.

• Taking patients’ vital signs, including pulse, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and temperature, prior to their examination.

• Performing basic triage tasks for injured or ill patients, which includes taking medical histories as well as determining the scope and severity of an injury or illness.

• Explaining procedures to patients to help prepare them.

• Collecting laboratory specimens for analysis.

• Assisting the physician during exams or procedures by obtaining medical equipment and instruments.

• Taking and reading x-rays.

• Drawing blood.

• Applying casts, splints, and braces under the direction of a physician.

• Removing sutures.

• Providing patients with information for post-visit self-care, such as special diet requirements or wound care.

• Administering injections.

• Providing medications.


Cleaning Duties

Between performing their front office administrative tasks and clinical duties, medical assistants also play a role in keeping healthcare facilities clean. MAs who work in smaller facilities, such as a physician’s office or clinic, may be asked to perform basic housekeeping duties, as well. It is vital to limit the spread of infection and disease. Some of the cleaning duties that an MA is responsible for include:

• Cleaning and restocking exam rooms after each patient, which may involve sweeping floors, disinfecting surfaces, providing clean linens and gowns to each room, restocking disposable medical implements, cleaning mirrors and windows, and organizing storage areas.

• Ensuring that medical waste is placed in the correct receptacle and that the receptacles are emptied regularly.

• Sterilizing medical implements after each use.

• Cleaning and restocking restrooms as necessary.

• Notifying housekeeping staff of hazards. (Larger facilities hire PHHs, or Professional Healthcare Housekeepers, who have received very specific training for dealing with hazardous situations.)


Specialized Duties

Some medical assistants work in specialized medical settings, such as in the offices of chiropractors, OBGYNs, and podiatrists. These individuals do not require any individual schooling, but they usually have a certificate or associate’s degree and certifications along with on-the-job training in their particular field. Specialist practices are typically smaller than doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals, so MAs in these settings are more likely to perform a wide variety of administrative and cleaning duties as well as clinical tasks that reflect their specialties.

As an example, an MA working in an optometrist’s office may be responsible for performing basic eye examinations, whereas an individual working in a podiatrist’s office may be responsible for taking x-rays. A medical assistant working in a laboratory may need to perform tests and record the results.


Adhering to State Scope of Practice Laws

Although there is no federal or state law that requires a medical assistant to be certified or registered, many states have what are known as Scope of Practice laws. These limit the duties that a medical assistant can perform without a credential or additional training. For example, in the state of Alaska, administering injections is considered a specialized nursing task. Because of this, Alaska law says that medical assistants must be certified in order to give those injections. Many other states have similar laws, and medical assistants can check the requirements and laws in their state online at the American Association of Medical Assistants website.


Conclusion

Medical assistants perform a wide variety of duties, which keeps their careers exciting and fulfilling and duties normally vary in different medical settings. Whether MAs work in the front office providing administrative support or they spend most of their time in the back office performing clinical duties, they play integral roles in providing high-quality care to patients in many different healthcare settings.