A team of medical professionals

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Learn about the most common Medical Assisting duties, responsibilities, and procedures

A team of medical professionals

Medical Assisting is an honorable profession and an incredibly rewarding career path. Not only do Medical Assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks, but they offer compassion and kindness to those that need it most. They strive to make life easier for patients as well as other healthcare professionals. If you are passionate about helping others, Medical Assisting may be the best career choice for you.

If you’re an aspiring Medical Assistant (MA), this article will cover some of the most common duties and procedures you may encounter throughout your career. We hope this information provides you with greater inspiration while pondering a possible future in healthcare.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

What Duties Do Medical Assistants (MAs) Have?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers some insight into the most common roles and responsibilities of a Medical Assistant. Of course, these tasks can vary depending on your location, employer, and level of experience.

MAs typically perform the following duties:

  • Record patient history and personal information
  • Take vital signs, such as blood pressure
  • Assist physicians with patient examinations
  • Provide patients with injections or medications as directed by physicians
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Prepare blood samples for lab tests
  • Enter patient information into medical records

Continue reading for a deeper dive into some of the specific duties and procedures typically performed by Medical Assistants.

1. Phlebotomy

Medical professional drawing blood

What is Phlebotomy?

Phlebotomy (or venipuncture) is the process of drawing blood intravenously from a patient. This is typically done by inserting a hollow needle into a patient’s vein to collect blood samples for laboratory testing.

In most scenarios, blood is drawn from a vein inside the patient’s forearm or the back of their hand. The procedure may be performed by nurses, medical laboratory scientists, medical practitioners, phlebotomists, dialysis technicians, and other staff.

When Do MAs Perform Phlebotomy?

Medical Assistants can only draw blood under a physician’s order and as permitted by state law. While phlebotomy isn’t a job requirement in every doctor’s office, it is a valuable skill that leads to greater job opportunities. Therefore, it would be beneficial for MAs or aspiring Medical Assistants to seek phlebotomy certification. Once they are certified, an MA would likely become more indispensable to their employer and enrich their career.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Phlebotomy

2. Electrocardiograms

Medical professional administering EKG test

What is an Electrocardiogram?

Electrocardiograms (EKGs) are quick and simple tests used to evaluate a patient’s heart. Electrodes are positioned on the patient’s chest, arms, and legs. These electrodes are then connected to a machine by lead wires. Essentially, EKGs are a common test used to identify cardiovascular conditions. They allow physicians to see if a heart is damaged or lacking oxygen.

When Do MAs Perform Electrocardiograms?

The frequency by which Medical Assistants perform EKGs greatly depends on their training and location. MAs with specialized electrocardiogram training are referred to as EKG Technicians. They learn how to use and clean different types of EKG machines. They also need to know how to read heart monitors. This training should also include an MA EKG practice test. It confirms that they know how to read the results and communicate them to the patient properly.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Electrocardiograms

3. Administering Medications

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What Does It Mean to Administer Medications?

The act of medication administration is precisely like it sounds: a medical professional administers medication to a patient. It’s recommended that they do so in a quiet area, give the task their complete attention, and never leave medications unattended. They should also wash their hands before and after distributing medication to each patient.

When Do MAs Administer Medications?

Medical Assistants can administer medication orally, sublingually, topically, vaginally, rectally, or by intramuscular, subcutaneous, and intradermal injection (note: injections require additional training). In every case, a physician must first verify the medication and dosage before authorizing the administration. Additionally, the physician must be physically present in the facility when the medication is administered.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Administer Medications

4. Laboratory Testing

Medical professional with blood sample

What is Laboratory Testing?

Lab testing is a procedure that involves testing a sample of urine, blood or other substance from a body. These tests can help medical professionals establish a diagnosis, treatment plan, and more.

When Do MAs Perform Laboratory Tests?

In many states, Medical Assistants can perform simple lab or screening tests in a medical office. The most common tests are urinalysis, blood cell count, hemoglobin, red blood cell percentage, and blood glucose levels. A Medical Assistant may also conduct a test for pregnancy or strep throat.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Laboratory Tests

5. Specimen Collection

Medical professional collecting specimens

What Does it Mean to Collect Specimens?

Collecting specimens is the process of acquiring tissue or fluids for laboratory analysis. Some of the samples collected may include serum samples, virology swab samples, biopsy and necropsy tissue, cerebrospinal fluid, whole blood for PCR, and urine samples. Medical Assistants collects these samples in specific containers for successful processing in a lab.

When Do MAs Perform Specimen Collection?

Although the rules can vary by state, Medical Assistants are often allowed to collect specimens through non-invasive measures. They preserve specimens for testing, including urine, sputum, semen, and stool. This common task allows MAs to assist physicians and other healthcare professionals by allowing them to see more patients or perform other tasks.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Specimen Collection

6. Wound Care

Supplies for wound care

What is Wound Care?

In the area of wound care, there are numerous factors to consider, including wound type, wound healing, and proper treatment for wound management. Once a wound is properly diagnosed and all elements have been considered, the best treatment options can be determined. Stitches are often included, not to mention bandages and medication.

When Do MAs Perform Wound Care?

The frequency by which Medical Assistants perform wound care can depend entirely on their location, specialization, and level of experience. However, most MAs are trained to administer care for surface-level wounds. In addition, they are allowed to apply topical medication and assist other healthcare providers during debridement procedures (i.e., removing damaged tissue or foreign objects).

Below are some tasks MAs may perform under wound care:

  • Prepare and sanitize materials required for wound care.
  • Remove and appropriately dispose of old wound dressings.
  • Clean the wound using non-toxic antibacterial cleaning agents.
  • Apply topical medication—antibiotic or pain medication ointments—as directed by a physician.
  • Change the wound dressing.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Wound Care

7. Taking Medical Histories

Professional taking medical history

What are Medical Histories?

Medical histories are records of information about a patient’s health. A medical history may include information on allergies, illnesses, immunizations, surgeries, and results of physical exams or other tests. In addition, it may note medicines taken as well as regular health habits.

When Do MAs Take Medical Histories?

Under their scope of practice, Medical Assistants will often take medical histories in a physician’s office. They lead patients to exam rooms, measure vital signs, and review medical histories before the physician arrives.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Take Medical Histories

8. Taking Vital Signs

Medical professional taking vital signs

What are Vital Signs?

Vital signs are measurements of a person’s most basic bodily functions. Healthcare professionals routinely monitor four primary vital signs: body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure. Although blood pressure isn’t considered a vital sign, it is typically measured along with the others. Not only do vital signs lay a pattern for each patient, but they can be extremely useful in detecting medical issues.

When Do MAs Take Vital Signs?

Medical Assistants are often tasked with collecting and recording patient data before the physician sees the patient. These data points may include a patient’s temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, weight, and height. They also collect information about current or previous conditions.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Take Vital Signs

9. Preparing Patients for Examinations

Medical team with patient

What Does It Mean to Prepare Patients for Exams?

Like medication administration, preparing patients for exams is exactly how it sounds: Medical Assistants take patients to exam rooms and perform basic steps for the physician. They also ensure that equipment is disinfected and supplies are adequately stocked. Plus, each exam room should be clean, well lit, ventilated, and at a comfortable temperature.

When Do MAs Prepare Patients for Exams?

In almost any healthcare setting, Medical Assistants will likely be required to prepare patients for exams. It may sound like a simple procedure, but this task is essential to the examination process and the success of the medical office. Under the scope of an MA’s practice, they prepare patients and assist the physician, podiatrist, physician assistant, or registered nurse during the examination. This may also include positioning, draping, shaving, and disinfecting other treatment sites.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Prepare Patients for Exams

10. Medical Billing

Medical billing and coding professional

What is Medical Billing?

Medical billing is the process of obtaining insurance information from a patient, filing a claim, and following up or appealing claims with health insurance companies. The goal is to receive payment for services rendered at a medical office. It features medical coding reports that list the diagnosis, treatment, and prices.

When Do MAs Perform Medical Billing Tasks?

Medical Assistants can play an important role in billing tasks. Since they perform clinical as well as administrative job functions, MAs learn basic coding techniques in most training programs. Medical Assistants may also obtain certification in medical coding. For instance, they can pursue certification with the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) or Board of Medical Specialty Coding (BMSC). An MA’s background and education can be incredibly helpful in pursuing certification or even a medical coding career.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Medical Billing Tasks

11. Medical Record Keeping

Stethoscope draped over a laptop

What is Medical Record Keeping?

Medical records create a permanent account of a patient’s illness or history. Their accuracy is vital for effective communication between patients and healthcare professionals. They help ensure that each patient’s needs are correctly assessed and met. These records may include information on illnesses, medical conditions, lab results, immunizations, screenings, biographical data, and documentation of services. In present day, most medical records are digitally stored, allowing them to be easily accessed in electronic databases.

When Do MAs Perform Medical Record Keeping?

Depending on the medical setting, MAs may be tasked with medical record keeping as part of their administrative role. It would allow them to respond to a patient’s inquiries or concerns, schedule physician appointments, and update patients on released medical results.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Perform Medical Record Keeping Tasks

12. Medical Appointment Scheduling

Young medical practitioner on the phone

What is Medical Appointment Scheduling?

Medical scheduling involves allocating specific times for exams and handling customer service inquiries. Some terms medical schedulers see are wave scheduling, modified wave scheduling, double booking, open booking, clustering or categorization, self-scheduling, and more. Medical schedulers will also perform these tasks for several offices in some situations.

When Do MAs Perform Medical Appointment Scheduling?

In many healthcare offices, Medical Assistants are responsible for creating and maintaining a daily or weekly schedule of appointments. They also prepare a copy for providers as well as other healthcare professionals.

Learn More

Click here to learn How to Schedule Medical Appointments 

Jumpstart Your Medical Assisting Career

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Unitek College offers several programs for aspiring medical professionals, including our Medical Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!