Medical assistants keep the offices of doctors, medical centers, and clinics running smoothly. Depending upon their employer’s needs, they can perform clerical, administrative, or clinical functions—or all three. Their duties vary by office type, location, and size of practice.
In small practices, medical assistants usually perform a mixture of administrative and clinical tasks. In large practices, where there may be several medical assistants, they tend to specialize in a particular area. There are generally three, and sometimes four, types of medical assistants—clerical, administrative, clinical, and specialists.
Clerical Medical Assistants:
Clerical medical assistants perform routine clerical duties that while somewhat repetitive are, nonetheless, essential to the smooth running of any office. They answer phones, schedule appointments, greet patients, sort mail, and type the doctor’s letters and memos. Their tasks are not much different than clerical personnel in any other kind of office setting although they tend to be immersed in the terminology that defines the entire medical field.
Administrative Medical Assistants:
Administrative medical assistants tend to handle tasks that are medical-related. They submit medical claim forms, update patient files, schedule medical tests, and arrange for hospital admissions. They also frequently do the billing and the bookkeeping for the medical facility or practice. Finally, they can (and often do) assume any or all of the general clerical duties within the office, which in a large operation can be significant.
Clinical Medical Assistants:
The job description of clinical medical assistants depends upon the laws of their specific states. Their role is more highly medical-related than are clerical or administrative medical assistants. The tasks of clinical medical assistants may include preparing patients for examinations, taking medical histories, and assisting the physician during the examination. They may also explain medical procedures to patients, call in prescriptions to pharmacies, collect laboratory specimens, and sterilize medical instruments. They may even draw blood, remove sutures, and take electrocardiograms.
Specialized Medical Assistants:
Many medical assistants specialize in a particular area. They have extra duties that reflect their areas of expertise. Ophthalmic medical assistants, optometric assistants, and podiatric medical assistants are examples of specialized assistants who have additional duties. Ophthalmic medical assistants help ophthalmologists provide eye care. They conduct diagnostic tests, measure and record vision, and test eye muscle function. They apply eye dressings and also show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses. Under the direction of the physician, ophthalmic medical assistants may administer eye medications. They also maintain optical and surgical instruments and may assist the ophthalmologist in surgery. Optometric assistants also help provide eye care, working with optometrists. They provide chair-side assistance, instruct patients about contact lens use and care, conduct preliminary tests on patients, and otherwise provide assistance while working directly with an optometrist. Podiatric medical assistants make castings of feet, expose and develop x rays, and assist podiatrists in surgery.
Employment and Career Status:
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that job opportunities for medical assistants will be plentiful for many years to come. They see enormous growth in the medical assistant field and predict that this growth will continue into the next decade and beyond. There’s a reason for this growth. The health care field is continuously expanding due to the aging population and technological advancements in treating certain diseases. There is also a trend toward preventative medicine, which encourages people to get more regular medical checkups.
But the biggest reason for the enormous growth of the medical assistant profession may be due to the growth of outpatient treatments facilities in the United States that hire medical office assistant. An overwhelming majority of these assistants—over 60 percent—work in physician’s offices. Only 12 percent work in hospitals.
The Medical Assistant is directly responsible to the physician-employer who hires him/her or any other physician-appointed supervisor in the facility. With experience, the Medical Assistant may be promoted within departments or to supervisory levels in administrative and clinical positions when knowledge and skills have been demonstrated. Medical assistants may also, with extra training and education, advance to the nursing field or other health-related occupations.
The profession of Medical Assisting has been recognized and supported by the American Medical Association (AMA) and American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) since 1959 when guidelines, standards and credentials were nationally established for the profession. Medical Assisting is a distinct, unique allied health discipline separate from all other allied health professions governed by the Curriculum Review Board (CRB) and Committee on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) of AMA and the AAMA.
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