Interested in joining the medical team but don’t want to be front and center with patients? If you still want to be on the front lines helping patients but not ready to care for patients directly, you may be interested in becoming a medical office assistant. You get the rewarding feeling of helping others while being the unsung hero of the back office. So, what does a medical office assistant do, you ask?
What Does a Medical Office Assistant Do?
The medical office assistant is an integral part of the medical staff. They are the behind-the-scenes heroes that keep a medical practice running smoothly. The medical office assistant supports the doctors, nurses and medical assistants with the day-to-day administrative duties so that they can care for more patients. Without the medical office assistant, doctors would have to manage their own schedules and nurses would need to answer phones. Patients would not get the quality of care they deserve.
Part of a medical office assistant’s duties is to create and manage schedules. The doctors need to keep a steady stream of patients moving in and out of multiple exam rooms, allowing them to help as many patients as they can. The medical office assistant must build schedules that take resources into consideration like EKG machines and other medical equipment that is in limited supply. The medical office assistant must also keep a patient’s wait to a minimum, while keeping sick patients from well patients and managing cancellations all at the same time.
Patients, vendors, and other doctors call during normal business hours and it is up to the medical office assistant to route the calls to the proper place. They must understand the proper phone protocol in their medical facility. Whether they should take a message, forward a call to a doctor or manage the call themselves, the medical office assistant must perform phone triage to take care of the emergencies and prioritize callers.
Medical Billing and Coding
The medical office assistant will help with medical billing and coding. They will learn proper coding procedure during a medical office administration program so they can manage insurance billing and claims for patients. Each protocol has different uses, and the medical office assistant must decern between them to get claims paid and keep the medical facility’s cash flow positive.
A medical office assistant will have light bookkeeping duties within a medical facility. Although an accountant will manage the taxes, the medical office assistant may be responsible for payroll, vendor payments, patient billing and cash deposits. These duties are fully explained during a medical office administration program. This program will familiarize students with QuickBooks and other medical software interfaces, so they are ready to work on day one.
Additional Administrative Duties
Some of the other administrative duties that a medical office assistant will be responsible for include arranging staff meetings, handling mail, preparing memos, and maintaining electronic filing systems. All of these administrative tasks must be kept confidentiality because all medical office personnel are responsible to adhere to HIPAA guidelines.
An important part of the job of a medical office assistant is to adhere to HIPAA guidelines. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requires that patient information be kept confidential and that authorized medical staff only allow the information to be disclosed with the patient’s consent. This law must be adhered to during phone calls, talking with family and when passing personal information between medical facilities. Breaking this law can cause the practice hefty fines and the medical office assistant’s early release.
What are the Skills a Medical Office Assistant Needs to Succeed?
A medical office assistant needs a specific set of skills to be successful. Many of these skills are honed during a medical office administration program at a vocational school. These skills include working with computers, proper communication, time management, organizational skills, problem solving and teamwork. Mastering this skill set will prepare medical office assistants to hit the ground running on day one of their new career.
Skill #1: Computer Skills
Most of the work that a medical office assistant will do involves computers. Whether it is managing electronic medical records, using QuickBooks to perform light bookkeeping or using insurance portals that allow the processing of claims, the medical office assistant must be comfortable learning new software interfaces and mastering traditional computer software like the Microsoft Office Suite. These computer skills allow a medical office assistant to type memos, create reports, enter data into electronic systems and do all the many tasks that they will complete at a medical facility.
Skill #2: Communication
A medical office assistant spends time talking with patients, medical assistants, doctors, vendors and others that are pertinent to the everyday tasks performed in a medical facility. Good communication, for a medical office assistant, starts with active listening. The ability to hear what someone is saying before responding, allows the medical office assistant to fully understand what is being said, giving them time to craft a proper response. Communication is also important as it is vital that no errors or misunderstandings result and cause poor outcomes for patients.
Skill #3: Time Management
There are only so many hours in the day, and there is always something else that could be done. A successful medical office assistant can prioritize tasks, so the most important tasks are completed in a timely manner. Emergencies do happen in a medical facility and a medical office assistant must be prepared to set aside their current work for more pressing matters.
Skill #4: Organizational Skills
Running a tight ship is important for the captain of the medical office. The medical office assistant will need to keep the supplies stocked, forms available, phones answered, and insurance claims paid. This takes organizational skills to manage the back office in a medical facility and keep everything running smoothly. Good organizational skills allow the doctors and medical assistants the ability to offer the best care possible for patient outcomes.
Skill #5: Problem Solving
There will be the inevitable problem to solve. A successful medical office assistant will know how to analyze the problem, understand what outcome is intended and pick the solution that best assists all parties involved.
Skill #6: Teamwork
The most important part of a successfully run medical facility is that all staff work as a team. The medical office assistant needs to be a part of the team and manage their tasks accordingly. When someone needs help, the medical office assistant can pitch in so that the patient gets the best possible care. The best part about working in a medical office is that everyone has the same passion for patients and wants to see the patients have good outcomes.
Where Do Medical Office Assistants Work?
There are many different places that a medical office assistant can work after graduation. From physician’s offices to insurance companies, the medical office assistant is in demand.
The most common entry-level position for graduates of the medical office administration program is at a physician’s office. Medical office assistants are the backbone of the physician’s office. They manage schedules and medical records, process insurance claims and patient billing and take inventory of supplies around the office. Everybody in the physician’s office function as a team and it is a great environment to work in.
Physician’s offices also have different specialties, and all the different types of doctors need qualified medical office assistants. Whether the office manages dermatology, ophthalmology, or gerontology, the medical office assistant duties are still in demand. At small physician’s offices, the medical office assistant may take on additional responsibilities like greeting patients and sanitizing surfaces. There is always something new to do for a medical office assistant.
In some areas of the U.S., a community will have a health clinic with multiple doctors that see patients. In this bigger setting a medical office assistant may have specialized duties focusing on one or two aspects of the job. But in a pinch, the medical office assistant can pitch in because they have a well-rounded education from a medical office administration program.
Depending on the department of the hospital, the medical office assistant will work with a variety of nurses and physicians and be responsible for different tasks. Hospitals employ more medical office assistant than a physician’s office so everyone must work as a team to offer the best patient outcomes possible.
Places that manage specimen and run tests will also need the expertise of a medical office assistant. Doctor’s offices still call, records still need data entry and schedules need managing. A medical office assistant is welcome in many different facilities including medical labs.
The best part about becoming a medical office assistant is that students are trained to work in a variety of environments. One of those environments is an insurance company. During the medical office assistant program, students learn everything they need to be successful at an insurance company including medical terminology and coding protocols.
Being a medical office assistant is a rewarding career, helping others indirectly and supporting the medical staff along the way. Some medical office administration programs offer both diploma and degrees. The degree program will offer a wider variety of responsible and with some experience may garner you an office manager position. Start on your journey as a medical office assistant and join the heroes of the medical industry
Want to learn more about what a medical office assistant does? Gwinnett College offers diploma and degree programs in medical office administration. Both diploma and degree programs include training in office and computer skills, medical office terminology and coding, processing insurance payments, and managing electronic health records (EHRs). The Medical Office Administration diploma program is designed for Gwinnett College students seeking to train for an entry-level career in a medical office assistant environment.
Contact us to learn more about how you can become a medical office assistant today.