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6 Evolving Expectations for Medical Office Assistants

If you asked most people to define the role of a medical office assistant, the answers would vary to include a medical secretary at a physician’s office, a clerical assistant, a front-desk receptionist, or someone who takes a patient’s blood pressure. And while administrative and clerical tasks such as appointment scheduling, maintaining medical records, and handling healthcare insurance are a large part of the responsibilities of medical office assistants, today there are increasing roles as well as opportunities for advanced clerical or even clinical roles. The roles and responsibilities and workplace settings for medical office assistants have expanded to provide new career path growth.

1. Trends in Healthcare Careers

Healthcare careers overall are one of the most in-demand, high job-prospect industries today, and there are numerous opportunities including choosing to become a medical office assistant. Healthcare is still the largest employer in the United States. The demand for healthcare workers is increasing due to a number of factors. One contributor is the notable shortage of healthcare professionals.

And as those who are currently working in healthcare careers retire, the need for individuals providing healthcare will continue to increase. The American Hospital Association’s Data Brief on healthcare workforce challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic underlined the nation’s need for more healthcare professionals to handle crises and treat patients. People are also living longer and an aging population will require an increased need for medical treatment for health issues.

2. Medical Office Assistant Versus Medical Assistant: Is There a Difference?

Both medical office assistants and medical assistants work in similar workplace settings, and while there are some commonalities between the two, there is a difference in core responsibilities.

A medical office assistant’s primary tasks are clerical. Job responsibilities involve scheduling and monitoring patient appointments, ordering supplies as needed, completing insurance forms, answering payment questions, assisting with billing, putting together medical charts for the visit, making sure that medical records are maintained, and acting as the first point of contact in the reception area.

A medical assistant’s duties are primarily clinical and their training is different, although at times there can be some clerical overlap. Medical assistants help physicians to have more time with patients by taking vital signs assisting with lab collection samples, as well as getting the patient ready in the exam room for the physician to evaluate. Medical assistants also make sure that a patient’s medical record is up to date regarding medications taken or any new patient complaints.

3. Why Choose a Career as a Medical Office Assistant?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an eight percent employment growth for medical office assistants between 2021 and 2031. Within that period, an estimated 53,600 jobs should be available.

Medical office assistants work primarily in doctor’s offices, but their roles have expanded to other settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, and even insurance companies. Because healthcare professionals always need organizational support, medical office assistants are in high demand which makes the prospect of finding a job not too difficult.

Your salary as a medical office assistant will be competitive. Annual salaries range from $30-46,500 depending on what part of the country you work in and the type of workplace, e.g., a physician’s office, outpatient clinic, a hospital, public health agency, nursing home, rehabilitation facility, or medical laboratory.

Finally, If your passion is to be a part of a career that helps impact people’s lives, you will find that a career as a medical office assistant will serve you to help fulfill that passion. You will be in ongoing contact with patients and their family members, updating their medical information, getting to know what is important to them, and building a trusting relationship with them.

4. Daily Patterns of Practice

Most days, whether working in a primary care physician’s office, medical outpatient clinic, community health center, dentist’s office, or hospital, medical office assistants are responsible for keeping the practice or whatever setting on track. You should count on frequent interruptions since you will be answering phone calls and are also usually the first point of contact for patients when they enter the office. Medical office assistants need to not only be detail-oriented but they also should have a calm and professional manner.

In addition to the daily primary responsibilities of medical assistants mentioned previously, you should also expect to manage communications and correspondence with physicians, patients, and health insurance or other third-party payors. You will be using computer software and the Internet. As directed by the physician or registered nurse, you may be also asked to share lab or x-ray results with patients. Medical assistants are key to making sure that the office is organized and running smoothly and that the practice complies with regulations set by the federal or state government.

5. Training

Becoming a medical office assistant requires a high school diploma or GED and completion of a Certified Medical Office Assistant program. Training and certification for becoming a medical office assistant is relatively short ranging from six months to one year.

Your coursework will include medical terminology, using medical administration computer software and the internet, anatomy, medical and legal ethics, and skills needed for medical office practice efficiency, in addition to others.

When you complete your training program you will earn a medical office assistant certification which prepares you for entry-level job opportunities. Although not required, you may want to take  a certification exam from either the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) which improves your qualifications with potential employers.

6. New Horizons & New Challenges

Beyond basic certification as a medical office assistant, there are also opportunities to increase your career goals through advanced training. These can be an associate’s or bachelor’s degree depending on what career you are seeking. Opportunities to advance to coding and billing specialists, medical office or practice manager, or more clinical paths such as a lab technologist, or medical assistant are just some of the paths to advance your career.

A medical office assistant is a great, fast-growing career in the healthcare industry that is in demand throughout the country. It is also one of the top healthcare careers you can break into with a relatively short training period. Because medical office assistants interface with patients, doctors, nurses, and others, a combination of strong administrative and interpersonal skills is highly valued.

Staying up-to-date with new technologies can be challenging, but keeping your skills up to date  in today’s digital world is essential. Join a professional organization such as the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals, attend conferences, or connect with colleagues on social media to keep in touch with your peers and opportunities to grow your career.