What Does A Medical Assistant Do?

"I have been thinking about getting involved with the medical field since I have heard there is a lot of demand for medical workers. I’m not really interested in doing a lot of work with patients. I wouldn’t mind a little, but in general I would prefer office work, since I can be a bit squeamish about medical conditions. I just want to be working in a position where I can make a difference and have a positive impact. I don’t have a lot of time or money to spend on college. Could I become a medical assistant? How much work would I be doing with patients, and what would my main duties be?"

asked by Anya from Carson City, NV

Medical assistants enable health practitioners to do their work more effectively by taking care of administrative and clinical tasks. Because of the work they do, they allow medical doctors, chiropractors and podiatrists to focus their attention on the patient and help them get better. It’s important to remember that medical assistants are not physician assistants. The latter performs examination, diagnosis and treatment of patients under the supervision of a doctor.

In general, medical assistants typically talk with a patient and obtain his relevant personal information and medical history. They take his blood pressure, temperature, weight, height and other vital signs. When the patient is being examined by the doctor, medical assistants may be called upon to provide whatever assistance is needed.

The detailed responsibilities of medical assistants actually vary depending on the kind of medical assistant that they are or the type of physician they are assisting. They can be administrative medical assistants, clinical medical assistants, ophthalmic medical assistants and optometric assistants and podiatric medical assistants.

Administrative medical assistants focus on administrative work, such as greeting patients when they first arrive in the office, answering phone calls and scheduling patient appointments. They also encode the medical information of patients and process insurance forms and pull out patient charts. Administrative medical assistants may also be responsible for purchasing store supplies and office equipment. Those working in larger hospitals may need to coordinate their work with hospital administrators and the laboratory services department.

An increasing number of doctors are now using electronic health records (EHRs) which places the data of their patients online. Medical assistants need to know how to operate the EHR software used by their clinic. If the EHR software has just recently been adopted by the clinic, administrative medical assistants are responsible for converting manual patient charts electronically.

Clinical medical assistants can perform basic laboratory exams, draw blood, change dressings, sanitize medical instruments and throw out contaminated supplies following hospital procedures. Some of them may be tasked with teaching patients about any special diets or medications that they need to take and preparing them for procedures like x-rays. Upon the orders of the physician, medical assistants may give injections and clarify to the patient the doctor’s orders. They also ask patients the reason why they needed to see the doctor and inquire about the present health issues they are facing. They also escort patients to examination rooms.

Medical assistants working for ophthalmologists and optometrists help the latter give eye care to patients. For example, they can show patients how to put in, take out and care for their contact lenses or assist in surgical eye operations. Podiatric medical assistants, on the other hand, help foot doctors with their tasks. One of this is making castings of patient’s feet.

Medical assistants must have a penchant for accuracy and detail. This is because they have to obtain vital signs and get precise patient information for the doctor to be able to come up with the correct diagnosis. Insurance firms require accurate information so this is a profession for those who are very exacting with the little details. They also need to have excellent interpersonal skills since they will sometimes be dealing with patients who are emotionally, mentally and physically stressed because of their condition. They will also be communicating the medical history and information that they have gathered to the physicians. In order to take vital signs accurately, they need to know how to use basic clinical instruments such as the sphygmomanometer to take the patient’s blood pressure.

Medical assistants usually need to graduate from a one-year medical assisting program available in universities, community colleges, technical schools and vocational schools. There are also two-year associate degree programs offered in some community and junior colleges. There are those who don’t undergo postsecondary training but only possess a high school diploma when hired. These medical assistants are typically trained on the job. Doctors and experienced medical assistants in the facility are in charge of training new hires. They teach them medical terms and familiarize them with instruments, how to code paper and electronic health records and how to talk with patients.

Medical assistants usually work fulltime in doctor’s offices and other healthcare facilities. Those working in physician’s offices observe regular work hours but those who are employed in facilities that operate 24 hours a day may have to do shift work on weekends and evenings.

Certification is not required to be a medical assistant but many opt to get one because it increases their chances of getting hired. The requirements depend on the certifying organization, although passing an exam is commonly needed. There are five certifications for medical assistants offered by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. The American Association of Medical Assistants provides the Certified Medical Assistant certification; the American Medical Technologists offers certification for Registered Medical Assistant; the National Center for Competency Testing provides the National Certified Medical Assistant certification; the National Health Career Association offers the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant and the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant certifications.

The job that medical assistants do is expected to be in high demand in the coming years due the rise of the elderly population who are expected to seek preventive care. Since the burgeoning demand for preventive medical services from the baby-boom population will certainly expand the practices of doctors, they will also need to hire more medical assistants to help them with administrative and clinical tasks.

The demand will also be fueled by new technology. An increasing number of doctors are turning to electronic health records and medical assistants will be needed to keep electronic data secure and well-maintained.

Career Spotlight: Medical Assistant

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