The Role of a Medical Assistant in a Modern Medical Practice

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Many physicians are unsure of what tasks are appropriate to assign to a Medical Assistant. It is important to remember Medical Assistants are not licensed to make independent medical assessments or give advice. Although many Medical Assistants may have advanced training in certain clinical areas it is ultimately the responsibility of the supervising physician or other licensed health care provider to assure that their staff and Medical Assistants working in the office are performing duties in compliance with all governing laws.

Physicians must determine the skill level and capabilities of each Medical Assistant they supervise and take into account liability risk and quality control when assigning them their responsibilities. Physicians should provide initial direct supervision and periodically assess the quality of their work. In practices with nurse managers, medical assistants can receive additional supervision coordinated to maximize workflow in a practice. Communicating the Medical Assistant roles to other staff and clearly delineating their responsibilities is important in maximizing the productivity of the health care team.

Although legal requirements addressing the Medical Assistant scope of practice vary by state, the Medical Assistant generally works under the license of their supervising physician or the managed care organization that employs them. To learn more about medical assisting scope of practice, contact Donald A. Balasa, Executive Director and Legal Counsel of the American Association of Medical Assistants, by e-mail at

Below are some of the duties that a typical medical assistant may perform (it is important to check with local and state medical boards to determine what duties a medical assistant can legally perform. It is also important to remember that a medical assistant is not a physician, nurse, physican assistant or other licensed healh care provider, they must therefore always be supervised by the appropriate licensed health care provider, after all it is the medical practioner whos license is most at risk.) The role of a medical assistant may be split into both administrative and clinical tasks.

Typical Medical Assistant administrative tasks may include: Work in reception, answer telephone, schedule appointments, process medical billing, keep financial records, file medical charts, telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, transcribe dictation, send letters and triage patients over the telephone using a protocol to determine the acuity of the visit and the visit-length for scheduling purposes.

The clicical tasks of a Medical Assistant vary greatly buy state and other local laws as well as the policies of a medical office or the health care setting were they are employed. Some of the supervised clinical tasks of a Medical Assistant may include: escorting the patient to exam room, carry out patient history interviews, take and record vital signs, prepare patient for examination, provide patient information/instructions, assist with medical examinations/surgical procedures, set up and clean exam rooms, maintain medical supply inventory, restock medical supplies in patient rooms, perform venipuncture (in certain states), administer immunizations (also only in certain states), collect and prepare laboratory specimens, notify patients of laboratory results after evaluation by a physician, schedule patient appointments, translate during medical interviews with non-English-speaking patients, give prevention reminders, instruct patients about medications or special diets, basic patine medical education, perform some basic laboratory tests, prepare medications as directed by the office physician, assist in performing ECGs.

Additional medical assistant duties may include: helping to develop educational materials, educate patients about procedures, negotiate managed care contracts, manage accounts payable, process payroll, document and maintain accounting and banking records, develop and maintain fees schedules, manage renewals of business and professional insurance policies, manage personnel benefits and maintain records, perform marketing, financial and strategic planning. Also, help develop and maintain personnel, policy and procedure materials, perform personnel management functions, negotiate leases and prices for equipment and supply contracts.

There are many lwas that govern the function of a medical assistant and other medical office staff members, so a Medical Assistant should never perform any duties or functions unless specifically instructed my their supervising physician or other licensed health care professions.

Although legal requirements addressing Medical Assistants scope of practice vary by state, Medical Assistant generally work under the license of their supervising physician or the managed care organization that employs them. If you have any questions about the legal role a medical assistant may play in your practice please contact your local state medical board for advise. Additional Medical Assistant training inforamtion information is available at St. Augustine Medical Assistant School:, which now offers online distance education training for Medical Assistants.

Dr.Mark Stout
Dean of Distance Education
St. Augustine Medical Assistant School

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