Skills Taught in a Medical Assistant Program

A medical assistant program focuses training in both front and back office skills.  A few of the skills taught in a medical assistant program include measuring vital signs, patient preparation for medical examination, updating patients’ charts, interaction communications with physicians and other medical professionals, preparing examination rooms, performing triage functions with patients, performing laboratory tests, and performing phlebotomy procedures.

Measuring Vital Signs

When measuring vital signs, the medical assistant will take the patient’s pulse, body temperature, respiration rate and blood pressure.

  • Pulse Rate – the measurement of the heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute. Taking a pulse also measures heart rhythm and the strength of the pulse. The normal pulse rate of a healthy adult ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. The pulse can be found on the side of the neck, on the inside of the elbow or at the wrist.
  • Body Temperature – a normal person’s body temperature ranges from 97.8 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. A body temperature can be taken orally, rectally, under the arm, by ear or by skin. Body temperature that is abnormal may be due to fever or hypothermia.
  • Respiration Rate – the number of breaths a person takes per minute. Normal respiration rates for an adult at rest range from 12 to 16 breaths per minute.
  • Blood Pressure – the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. To numbers are recorded during a blood pressure test. The higher number refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body. The lower number refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and filling with blood. Normal blood pressure in an adult is less than 120 mm Hg for systolic (higher) pressure and 80 mm Hg diastolic (lower) pressure.

Patient Preparation for Medical Examinations

A medical examination is used to check the patients’ overall health and to ensure that they don’t have any medical problems that they aren’t aware of. The medical assistant will gather documents for the patients’ medical history and confirm any information about medications they are currently taking. The medical assistant may ask about any symptoms the patient may have and pass this information on to the physician. In addition to measuring vital signs, the medical assistant may gather weight and height information to update and monitor medical history.

Updating Patients’ Charts

More and more, medical assistants are using Electronic Medical Records (EMR) in place of physical paper charts and records. The electronic medical record helps the medical assistant track data over time, identify patients who are due for preventative visits, monitor the patients vital sign readings and easily enter medical exam vital signs and notes from the preparation of the medical exam. The medical assistant will use ICD-10 and CPT coding standards to keep charts and records consistent between all medical assistants, physicians and the insurance companies that the medical assistant may bill.

Interaction Communications with Physicians and Other Medical Professionals

The medical assistant will need good communication skills to work with patients, physicians and medical professionals. The medical assistant will want to be a good listener and pick up on any non-verbal body language to better understand the situation. They will want to be clear and concise with the message, especially in an emergency. Further, the medical assistant will want to use a friendly tone, show confidence, have empathy for the physician or patient, keep an open-mind and show respect for physicians and colleagues. Good communication is an essential skill for a successful medical assistant.

Preparing Examination Rooms

When preparing an examination room for a patient, the medical assistant will want to keep a clean environment and sterilize any supplies or instruments to be used. The exam room should be comfortable for both the wait and the exam as patients may become nervous. The exam room should be safe with all safety hazards eliminated. The medical assistant must also adhere to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and make sure the exam room reasonably accommodates a patient with disabilities. In between patients, the medical assistant will want to dispose of any one-time items, disinfect all work spaces, and sterilize all instruments to be used on the next patient.

Performing Triage Functions with Patients

During the course of the day, when patients schedule appointments or while working in an emergency facility, the medical assistant will want to use triage functions. The triage of patients includes determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity their condition. There are a few different concepts in triage, they include:

  • Simple Triage – sorting patients into those who need critical attention and those with less serious injuries.
  • Reverse Triage – the prioritization of admission by discharging patients early when the medical system is stressed.
  • Color-Coding System – helps triage units function better and with quicker action.
    • Red – immediate attention needed and the patient may have a life-threatening condition.
    • Yellow – immediate attention is needed. The patient has serious injuries and needs transport as soon as possible.
    • Green – less serious minor injuries and non-life-threatening condition
    • Black – the patient is deceased or mortally wounded.

Performing Laboratory Tests

The medical assistant may perform laboratory tests to check a sample of the patients’ blood, urine or body tissue. From the test sample the medical assistant can determine the patient’s sex, age and race, what they ate or drank, the medicine taken and how well they followed pre-test instructions. The medical assistant may compile laboratory tests for the physician to compare to previous results with the patient. The medical assistant will need to become familiar with specific medical items and devices to perform laboratory tests, they include:

  • Test Tubes – used to hold small amounts of specimen for laboratory testing.
  • Petri Dishes – used to prepare the culture of organisms to identify illness or disease in a specimen.
  • Syringes – used to inject or withdraw bodily fluids for testing.
  • Disposable Gloves – help prevent the transmission of disease to or from the medical assistant.
  • Microscope – used to see visually minute structures
  • Ultracentrifuge – used to separate particles dispersed in a liquid, or blood from plasma.

Performing Phlebotomy Procedures

The medical assistant will take blood from patients on occasion or work as a phlebotomist. The phlebotomy procedure starts with entering the patients’ information and insurance into the computer system. The medical assistant will check in the patient and escort them to the blood draw room. They will assemble, sterilize and maintain the phlebotomy materials for the blood draw. The medical assistant will draw the blood after verifying the patient’s identity to ensure proper labeling of the specimen. The medical assistant will then label the specimen properly and bandage the injection site to stop the bleeding.

Do the skills taught in a Medical Assistant Program interest you? Do you want to become a medical assistant? The core curriculum of Gwinnett College’s Medical Assistant Program focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back office medical assisting skills.

Contact us to learn more about how you can become a medical assistant today.