Medical assistants work in doctors' offices and in various health care settings under the supervision of a doctor or office manager. Medical assistants who work in smaller facilities often act as generalists, engaging in a wide range of functions from patient care to administrative duties. Those who work in larger facilities may focus on one or two specific duties. Most employers require medical assistants to have at least a high school diploma. Medical assistants typically also receive on-the-job training. While medical assistants are not required to hold a college degree, those who have completed professional training programs often have increased employment opportunities.
Administrative functions are among the major duties that most medical assistants perform. Medical assistants handle important clerical tasks that enable facilities to operate efficiently. They perform bookkeeping, check patients in and out, collect insurance information, complete insurance paperwork and maintain patient medical records. When dealing with patient records, medical assistants must ensure that the information remains confidential at all times. Medical assistants answer phones, receive and direct incoming patients and schedule patient appointments. They also participate in coordinating prescription drug refills with pharmacies and in scheduling doctor-ordered lab work. Medical assistants also monitor facility supply and equipment levels.
Medical assistants often aid the treating doctor in direct patient care. When involved in patient care, medical assistants may record patient medical histories, check vital signs, draw blood and prepare patients to undergo exams or procedures. Some medical assistants will even aid the doctor in performing a medical exam or procedure. Medical assistants may also be permitted to prepare and administer certain shots and medications to patients. Each state regulates the specific clinical duties that medical assistants are permitted to perform by law.
In addition to working with doctors to administer hands-on patient care, medical assistants often participate in educating and instructing the patients. Medical assistants will provide patients with important information regarding recommended diets, medication instructions, treatments and procedures. Medical assistants may also answer patient questions, explain any potential risks or provide a patient with comfort and reassurance.
Many medical facilities require medical assistants to participate in the general maintenance and appearance of the facility. Medical assistants will prepare examination rooms for patients, making sure that the rooms are clean and properly stocked with the necessary equipment and supplies. Medical assistants are responsible for gathering and properly disposing of lab specimens and contaminated items. Medical assistants may also be required to ensure that all instruments are properly sterilized.
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