To a lot of people, health facilities are primarily driven by doctors and nurses. If you are just now inquiring for the first time about the role of medical administrative assistants, you might not be aware of the importance these workers have had in your prior visits to hospitals and clinics. Without the various functions that medical administrative assistants fulfill at health facilities, your doctor would not be able to coordinate appointments, retrieve patient information, organize scans and test results, and collect payments. Essentially, your doctor would not be able to practice at any capacity without the help of medical administrative assistants.
What Are the Job Duties of a Medical Administrative Assistant?
Medical administrative assistants are clerical professionals who handle various office tasks at hospitals and private-practice clinics. In some cases, medical administrative assistants are also called upon by physicians to handle supportive tasks during patient appointments. To work as a medical administrative assistant, you must undergo training and comply with the mandates instituted by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other regulatory organizations. The job requires expertise and regulatory compliance in the areas of data retrieval and storage, in addition to skills in the following areas:
- Check-ins: Whenever you approach the front desk at a hospital or clinic, you will usually be checked in by a medical administrative assistant.
- Phone calls: The incoming phone calls at a medical facility are generally handled by medical administrative assistants, who will sometimes also make outgoing calls to confirm appointments.
- Information gathering: When you come for your appointment, a medical administrative assistant will ask you basic health questions and gather information on your appointment history to give to the doctor.
- Payment processing: Medical administrative assistants handle payment processing, whether the costs are paid upfront in cash or handled by an insurance plan.
- Equipment operation: Medical administrative assistants handle office equipment and the input of patient data into computer software systems.
- Test results: After you have undergone a test or exam at a medical facility, the medical administrative assistant will bring the results to your doctor.
- Office upkeep: Medical administrative assistants are generally responsible for the organization of files and supplies, as well as the general upkeep of a clinic office.
A typical career in medical administrative assistance consists of 40-hour workweeks. The shifts could extend across weekdays and weekends, day or night, depending on staffing needs and the availability of hospital personnel. During the course of your shift, you would be responsible for assorted clerical functions at the facility.
What Is the Role of a Medical Administrative Assistant?
The types of work you might be assigned as a medical administrative assistant could largely be based on the skill sets you have going into the profession. The posts available for medical administrative assistants can also depend on the type of clinic or hospital. If you get hired at a large hospital, you might be assigned a narrower set of tasks due to the large staff at hand. If you work at a clinic with a small staff, you might be assigned a more varied set of tasks, such as the following:
- Scheduling: As a medical administrative assistant, you must have the ability to coordinate schedules for days and often weeks in advance. This will require computer skills, as the task generally involves matching names and patient numbers into a system calendar for certain doctors on specific days and hours.
- Customer service: You will be expected to field questions in the role of medical administrative assistant, whether it’s patients wondering about their test results or relatives calling on behalf of a loved one.
- Medical terms: To communicate information about tests, procedures, medications, and prescriptions, you will need to be versed in a range of medical terms.
- Billing: If you work at the front desk as a medical administrative assistant, you will need to be versed in inputting numbers and issuing bills to patients.
- Data entry: As a medical administrative assistant, you will need to have a certain degree of computer savvy, as many tasks involve the entry of data on the schedules and records of patients into hospital software systems.
- Communication skills: In the role of medical administrative assistant, you will generally need to have a warm and friendly demeanor that puts people at ease during all stages of an appointment, whether you work the front desk or patient rooms at a hospital.
- Organization skills: To succeed as an medical administrative assistant, you will need to be organized and be able to file and retrieve data on any given patient at a moment’s notice.
- Multitasking: On any given day, you might be asked to handle several different tasks within the same shift. You will need to be able to transition between each of these tasks, whether you are assigned to retrieve data or update information on a patient.
The hours and days of your work shift could all depend on the type of medical facility and whether it covers general or specialty healthcare. In any case, recent demand for medical administrative assistants has made this line of work one of the best jobs of 2020.
Where do Medical Administrative Assistants Work?
If you study to become a medical administrative assistant, your resulting skills could qualify you for work in a variety of settings within the medical sector, including the following:
- Hospitals: Medical administrative assistants are needed for all kinds of tasks at hospitals. If you come to the profession with advanced computer skills, you could possibly find work in the data-entry department. Alternately, you could end up working as an assistant to certain doctors or researchers on staff. In a large hospital, you would be one of many medical administrative assistants on a given shift.
- Medical practices: At smaller clinics that specialize in specific treatments, you will usually find a small staff with medical administrative assistants at the front desk and at the doctor’s side.
- Insurance companies: Insurance companies that deal with health plans will often hire medical administrative assistants to handle policies in that category.
- Medical research facilities: At the centers where research is conducted to examine diseases, perform experiments, and formulate remedies, medical administrative assistants are needed to do everything from data entry and paperwork to laboratory tasks. Once you gain the skills needed to become a medical administrative assistant, you could possibly find yourself working at a research facility that develops a cure for a life-threatening disease.
- Urgent care centers: At centers that take in patients with emergency needs, medical administrative assistants are needed to dispatch ambulances, field incoming calls, and bring supplies to the doctors who handle urgent care cases.
- Medical billing companies: At a billing company, you would be responsible for pulling up patient accounts, updating data, talking with patients and insurers over the phone, sending out bills, and processing payments.
- Medical transcription companies: If you enter the field with an ability to type fast and discern a multitude of voices and accents, you could possibly find work as a medical transcriptionist. In this capacity, you would turn hours of recorded doctor/patient conversations into volumes of readable text for hospital record-keeping purposes.
- Medical administrative assistant trainer: After you gain credentials by working in the field as a medical administrative assistant, you might find opportunities to work as a trainer of students who study for this line of work at select educational institutions.
For hospital work, you are usually expected to be open to any type of shift. Since a hospital is open around the clock, seven days a week throughout the year, you might be asked to work morning, afternoon, evening, or late-night shifts. Some shifts might put you on a typical 40-hour, Monday-to-Friday schedule. Other slots could have you working 12-hour shifts, three days per week.
What Does a Medical Administrative Assistant Do in a Clinic?
Clinics offer specialty care and typically operate only during regular business hours. Therefore, if you land a job as a medical administrative assistant at a clinic, you will probably be given a more ordinary nine-to-five shift on weekdays. The job would not entail shifts at odd hours or on Sundays or holidays.
The roles available for medical administrative assistants at clinics are similar to those at hospitals, but also more specific. If you work as an administrative assistant to a doctor or physician, it would likely be for the same type of treatment with each patient who comes through the door. If the clinic only accepts people with certain types of coverage, it might narrow down the processing protocol if you work at the front desk.
If you are hoping to land a job as a medical administrative assistant with steady, normal hours, you would probably prefer working at a clinic. Most of the appointments at a clinic are usually scheduled in advance, in contrast to the impromptu drop-ins and emergency room scenarios that regularly occur at hospitals. As such, you might spend more of your shift at the front desk in a clinic scheduling appointments and checking patients in than you would in a hospital, where a lot of the tasks concern urgent situations.
If you do work at the front desk, you would need to have sophisticated communication skills to help put visitors at ease when they come in for their appointments. Otherwise, the demands of working as a medical administrative assistant in a clinic are relatively mild because there are rarely any critical situations to deal with in that environment.
In a private practice facility, your role as a medical administrative assistant might not be as regimented as it would at a hospital due to the small size of the staff on hand. A private physician might hire you to perform a series of tasks during a given shift, such as patient check-ins, scanning assistance, and checkouts. In some of these smaller settings, your role could double as a medical coder. If the clinic only has a handful of staffers during a given shift, you might be the only medical administrative assistant present in your timeslot.
What Characteristics Are Needed for Success as a Medical Administrative Assistant?
To handle the responsibilities that come with the role of a medical administrative assistant, you need to have excellent communication skills. Whether you work the greeting area or the doctor rooms, a lot of your day would involve talking to patients and making them feel at ease about the reasons for their visits. You would also need to have the resilience to handle high-stress situations, especially if you work in a hospital where many of the circumstances are urgent and critical. The challenges you are liable to encounter during a given workday could include the following:
- Busy physicians: As doctors deal with one appointment after another, you would be expected to produce the proper files and data for each patent. You will also need to bring equipment and supplies wherever needed and maintain your calm when things get intense.
- Moody patients: A lot of people get nervous when they visit a health clinic, and one of your tasks as a medical administrative assistant is to make each visitor feel a sense of comfort. Often times, a patient’s apprehensions will merely be due to psychological associations with the hospital environment. In other cases, the prognosis will not be good for the patient. Either way, part of your job would be to minimize each patient’s sense of worry.
- Insurance companies: Some insurance companies are very uncompromising in what they will and won’t cover. As a medical administrative assistant, you might encounter cases where a patient’s coverage will not cover a certain procedure, despite initial beliefs to the contrary. There could also be cases where the insurer uses vague policy wording to wiggle out of covering the treatment in question. Either way, you will need to have negotiating skills to iron out these differences.
As a medical administrative assistant, you will need to have a sharp and detailed memory so you can match files and test results for the dozens of patients who filter in and out of the facility throughout the course of a given day. You will also need to have the ability to multitask because on some shifts, you might be asked to switch between different assisting tasks.
What Type of Education and Training Is Required for a Medical Administrative Assistant?
To study for a possible career as a medical administrative assistant, you will need to enroll in an educational program geared toward the field. Any well-rounded study program for this line of work should include classes in the following topics:
- Medical terminology: A full grasp of medical terms will allow you to translate the more obscure medical words to patients who might be concerned about such language.
- Healthcare laws: You will need to stay up-to-date and be in full compliance with healthcare laws in your jurisdiction.
- Healthcare data management: For clerical work in the medical field, you will need to have advanced software skills.
- Bookkeeping: A lot of your tasks could involve data entry, account updates, record retrieval, and other types of bookkeeping.
- Medical billing and coding: Learning the applicable code for this profession is vital to your success in this field.
- Office management: Your ability to organize, multi-task, and communicate with patients, physicians, and fellow staff will be vital in this line of work.
Wherever you pursue your education for this field, the program must be accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). At Vista College, we offer programs of study where you can learn the skills required for this field. Learn more about our Associate of Applied Science in Medical Administrative Assistant program today.