Medical administrative assistants are critical to the functioning of healthcare facilities. Sometimes called medical office assistants, people in these positions utilize their clerical skills and administrative abilities to ensure the smooth running of a medical facility.
We will discuss the various roles and responsibilities of medical administrative assistants. We will also look at the steps to becoming an administrative MA.
Roles and Responsibilities of Administrative Medical Assistants
Medical administrative assistants perform the following tasks:
Managing Front-Office Tasks
The job of a medical administrative assistant is primarily based in the front office.
They are responsible for the following:
- Greeting patients as they arrive
- Answering phones
- Directing patients on where to go
Scheduling Appointments and Confirming Patient Information
Scheduling appointments and interacting with patients is a large part of the job. Apart from that a medical administrative assistant must also:
- Confirm and follow up on appointments
- Collect patient’s information when they arrive at the facility
- Alert medical staff that the patient has arrived
- Schedule follow-up appointments
Facilitating Communication Between Patients and Healthcare Providers
Communication skills are key to the success of an administrative medical assistant. They not only communicate with patients but also facilitate communication between patients and other healthcare providers or insurance companies.
Maintaining Medical Records and Billing Information
Administrative assistants, also sometimes called medical secretaries, are responsible for maintaining and updating patient medical records.
As part of the job, they must also update the billing and contact information of patients.
Ensuring Compliance With Legal and Ethical Standards
All healthcare workers are required to adhere to strict legal and ethical standards, including HIPAA. Without these standards, patients may suffer from malpractice.
Although not a primary responsibility, the medical administrative assistant is responsible for ensuring the practice continues to adhere to these federal and state standards.
Managing Inventory and Ordering Medical Supplies
Medical administrative assistants also have some back-office duties.
This includes ordering medical and office supplies as needed. Not having these supplies on hand can have disastrous consequences.
Education and Training Requirements for Medical Administrative Assistants
There is no formal education requirement to work in this field. However, as a minimum, most employers will require a high school diploma (or equivalent).
Below we discuss the desired requirements in greater detail:
High School Diploma and Postsecondary Education
Most employers require a high school diploma to work as a medical administrative assistant.
There are no additional formal requirements, and several facilities will offer on-the-job training for new assistants.
Some community colleges or trade schools offer medical assistant training programs. The length of these programs vary but can be up to two years, either online or on campus.
Certificate Programs for Administrative Medical Assistants
Although not a requirement, certificate programs are a great way for prospective MAAs to stand out from the crowd.
These programs include courses like medical terminology, managing healthcare information, billing, office administration and clinical patient care.
Medical administrative assistant certificates are available at plenty of community colleges or vocational schools. Some schools also offer these certificate programs through online courses.
Associate Degree Programs for Medical Administrative Assistants
Some colleges offer a medical administrative assistant associate degree. These degrees go beyond what is covered in certificate programs. Associate degrees cover:
- Medical documentation
- Medical terminology
- Accounting – medical insurance and billing
- Electronic health records
- Medical office procedures
- Customer service and quality improvement
- Computer skills
- Workplace mathematics
An associate degree will take two years to complete.
On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeships
Even with formal education, some offices will offer on-the-job training to teach you the required skills.
There are often apprenticeships and externships incorporated as part of a certificate or degree program.
Continuing Education and Professional Development
Medical administrative assistants have the option to take the CMAA or MAAC exams (more on that below).
Once the test has been passed, there is no requirement for continuing education. However, additional development opportunities are available. For example, the medical administrative assistant can complete courses on coding, billing, or computer skills.
Certification and Licensure for Administrative Medical Assistants
Importance of Certification and Licensure
Although certification is not a legal requirement, a lot of employers require that their medical administrative assistants have some type of formal education and certification.
Types of Certification and Licensure Available
There are two main types of certification available for medical admin assistants:
- The National Healthcare Association (NHA) offers the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) certification
- The American Medical Certification Association offers the Medical Administrative Assistant Certification (MAAC)
Eligibility Requirements and Exam Preparation
The requirements for the CCMA exam are:
- Completed in the past five years: a medical assisting program, which includes medical administrative assistant training
- Have a high school diploma, or equivalent
The CCMA exam has 110 questions, covering the following:
- Patient Intake
- Office Logistics
- Patient Education
- General Office Policies and Procedures
- Basic Medical Terminology
The requirements for the MAAC are:
- Aged 18 or older
- Pass 3 CXC subjects (mathematics, English, biology, human and social biology) with Grades 1, 2 or 3
The MAAC exam has 100 questions, covering the following:
- HIPAA and Compliance
- Medical Records
- Other Administrative Knowledge
- Medical Billing and Coding
- Medical Terminology and Anatomy
- Emergency Care
Maintaining Certification and Licensure
Your certification will be valid for two years and can be renewed with the certification body before expiry.
Career Opportunities and Salary
This section will discuss the different job titles, career opportunities, salary expectations and advancement of administrative assistants at a medical office.
Job Titles and Descriptions
A medical administrative assistant has many different job titles, including:
- Medical secretary
- Medical office assistant
- Clinical medical assistant
- Medical office manager
The roles and duties of these titles remain the same: they are responsible for the medical administration of a healthcare facility.
Apart from these, there are also several job titles that those with medical administrative assistant education can adopt that go beyond administrative tasks:
- Patient care coordinators: Ensuring that the needs and care of a patient are communicated to healthcare providers. Ensure test results are circulated to the medical team. Communicate to the patient the roles of the different specialists.
- Patient advocates: Identify why a patient’s necessary care is being withheld. Help with scheduling appointments for a patient, transporting patients, and ensuring the patient gets the best healthcare.
Work Settings and Employers
Medical administrative assistants work in a wide range of settings.
- Hospitals: There will be clearly defined expectations as part of the job, including maintaining electronic health records, scheduling appointments, and updating patient information.
- Private practices: The duties are more varied, as there is less staff. Medical administrative assistants may be required to measure vital signs and perform basic duties typically expected of medical assistants.
- Work-from-home: Because of the nature of the administrative work, some medical administrative assistants are able to work completely remotely.
- Insurance companies: Medical administrative assistants’ understanding of the medical industry makes them great employees at health insurance companies.
Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the annual salary of “medical secretaries and administrative assistants” was $39,740 in 2021, with a mean hourly wage of $19.11.
In the medical field, outpatient care centers paid medical administrative assistants the most in 2021, with an annual salary of $44,160. However, physicians’ offices employed the most assistants (213,240 in 2021).
Interestingly, the “Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods (4242 and 4246 only)” industry, which you might not commonly associate with healthcare and patient care, paid medical administrative assistants the most in 2021, with a mean annual wage of $72,410.
In 2021, California was the state that employed the most medical administrative assistants (98,120).
Medical assistant jobs – although different from medical administrative assistant jobs – are expected to grow by 16% in the coming decade. With an ongoing need for employees in the healthcare industry, we can expect that medical administrative assistants will have a similar job outlook.
Medical administrative assistants can further their education to advance in their careers.
They can go back to school to get a clinical degree which can help them become medical assistants, or they can hope to be promoted to management roles. Common promotional titles include practice manager, office manager, or billing supervisor.
Challenges and Opportunities in the Field
Working as a medical administrative assistant is more than just day-to-day administrative tasks – the job comes with challenges, especially with recent technological developments.
The Impact of Technological Advancements on Administrative Medical Assisting
Healthcare information technology is constantly changing, and that can make it challenging for administrative assistants to keep up with the latest tech.
Newer and younger assistants may be familiar with different technology found in practices, whereas those that have worked in the field for a long time may struggle with modern software.
There may be a fear that automated booking software and appointment reminders negate the use of front desk staff, however, patients still require the assistance of these staff members when rescheduling appointments, paying bills, or enquiring about procedures.
The Importance of Cultural Competence and Diversity
Cultural competence improves communication, and communication is key when it comes to patient care.
Cultural competence and diversity are key in workplaces as it helps with the respect and understanding of staff and patients.
A diverse staff consisting of different religions and races can help with patient safety and care, and medical assistants from diverse backgrounds will better be able to explain procedures to patients.
The Challenge of Balancing Professionalism with Empathy
Medical assistants must have empathy with the patients, but cannot let their human nature overrule them when it comes to doing their job.
Some patients may struggle to pay bills or might not have insurance, and although having empathy with these patients is key, it is the job of the medical administrative assistant to keep up to date with medical billing.
Opportunities for Growth and Development
Medical administrative assistants can further their careers by studying more advanced topics, such as clinical programs, accounting, laboratory science, marketing, or community health.
Working as a medical administrative assistant can be incredibly rewarding if you enjoy administrative tasks and dealing with people. There are great outlooks for this career as the demand for professionals in the healthcare industry are increasing.
With a solid salary and opportunities for advancement, you should consider starting your journey to becoming a skilled or certified administrative medical assistant.
What are some common challenges faced by administrative medical assistants?
There are four main challenges that a medical administrative assistant deals with almost daily:
- Difficult personalities or disgruntled patients
- Juggling a varied (and often overwhelming) workload
- Sitting behind a desk for long periods of time
- Helping the other staff with problem-solving (fixing the printer, finding patient charts)
What is the typical work schedule of an administrative medical assistant?
At a private practice, the administrative medical assistant is typically required to work 40 hours a week.
At a hospital or clinic, shifts might include night shifts, holidays, and weekends.
How can I gain experience as an administrative medical assistant?
The best way to gain experience is to volunteer or intern at a physician’s office or your local clinic.