Medical assisting is not just a job – it’s a highly rewarding profession with a diverse array of roles and responsibilities. A day in the life of a medical assistant is difficult to pinpoint because your day-to-day activities might be different depending on what type of practice you work for and the department you work in.
As a practicing medical assistant, I was very lucky to work for a family practice for 20 years, where I was able to gain experience in three main departments: the front office, back office and lab. Later, I worked for a neurologist and spent most of my time in the front office and the lab.
No matter where you work, however, there is one thread that ties together all of your responsibilities and duties: the need for attention to detail, professionalism and caring.
If you work primarily at the front desk, you’ll be responsible for answering the office’s multi-line phone system and using triage questions to determine the severity of the caller’s problem. You also are tasked with informing the physician about patient concerns, scheduling appointments and greeting patients as they enter the office. Medical assistants should demonstrate professionalism and tact when interacting with patients and follow protocol for determining a patient’s immediate needs.
Attention to detail is also extremely important in the front office. In addition to your reception duties, you will also need to obtain patients’ insurance information, collect insurance co-payments, verify patients’ addresses and phone numbers, update and maintain HIPAA authorizations and call insurance companies for pre-authorization and pre-certification approval for testing or surgeries. Mistakes can be costly – for both the practice and the patient – so it’s critical that you are thorough and meticulous in completing these tasks.
If you work in the back office, you’ll have an even greater opportunity to interact with patients and may even assist the physician in treating the patient. On a typical day, you could help measure patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and height and weight. You would also be responsible for obtaining the patient’s medical history and determining the patient’s chief complaint (the reason why he or she is in the office) so that you can brief the physician.
Other duties might include performing visual acuity testing, ear irrigations, audiometry (hearing tests), and setting up the exam room for a procedure. Sometimes you might be able to assist the physician with minor surgical procedures, such as inserting or removing sutures.
Medical assistants play an important role in making a patient feel comfortable during an appointment. Often, they can help reduce a patient’s anxiety about an upcoming procedure by relaying information from the physician in terms that the patient can understand. It’s important to have a good bedside manner and a calm demeanor when dealing directly with patients.
Finally, some medical assistants might be responsible for performing in-house laboratory procedures. These include venipuncture (drawing blood), urinalysis, throat cultures, pregnancy tests, drug screens, EKGs and much more. Attention to detail is important here as well because an error could cause a misdiagnosis.
Regardless of their role, medical assistants serve an essential function on the healthcare team. From the front office to the lab, they contribute to the success of the physician and the practice and ensure that patients have a good experience during their visit. The amount and variety of tasks you are responsible for handling can affect how much you can make as a medical assistant.
If you're interested in becoming a medical assistant, check out Herzing's online medical assisting programs.