What is a Medical Administrative Assistant?

When patients arrive for a doctor’s appointment, they’re usually greeted by a medical administrative assistant. This person functions as the patient’s initial point of contact with their healthcare provider.

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But meeting patients is only one small part of a medical administrative assistant’s duties. Their skills and knowledge are vital to the smooth operation of a medical office or facility, making them an indispensible part of the American healthcare system.

If you decide to become a medical administrative assistant, you can pursue that option confidently, knowing that opportunities will be available in this rapidly expanding field.

What are the Duties of a Medical Administrative Assistant?

In a healthcare facility, the medical administrative assistant is the glue that holds the whole operation together. As customer service representatives and administrators, their duties are diverse and varied. They’re required to deal with patients and administrative tasks simultaneously throughout the course of a working day.

The typical duties of a medical administrative assistant include:

  • Answering patients’ questions on the phone or in person
  • Helping patients check in at the front desk for their appointments
  • Scheduling appointments over the phone or online
  • Collect personal and medical data for the creation of patient records
  • Handling accounting and billing procedures
  • Processing insurance or Medicare payments
  • Filling out medical charts
  • Entering and retrieving computerized data on patients and their treatment regimens
  • Creating and responding to electronic correspondence
  • Passing on testing results to doctors or nurses
  • Checking inventories and ordering supplies
  • Facilitating communication between staff members in the clinics, offices or hospitals that employ them
  • Staying up to date on healthcare policies, laws and regulations, for the benefit of medical professionals and patients alike

A medical administrative assistant is a trained professional with well-developed technical and interpersonal skills.

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Characteristics of a Successful Medical Administrative Assistant

As the first person patients interact with when they enter a healthcare facility, medical administrative assistants must have strong people skills. They should be friendly and empathic and adept at verbal communication. They must also demonstrate good listening skills, to make sure they understand patients’ complaints and needs fully and accurately.

Since they constantly deal with people in distress, medical administrative assistants need to be patient and sympathetic. No matter the situation, they must remain composed and in command. This is the best way to make sure patients stay as calm and relaxed as possible in highly stressful circumstances.

The working environment at a clinic or hospital can be hectic and at times even chaotic. Medical administrative assistants must be able to function in such an environment without becoming distracted or stressed themselves, since their concentration is required at all times.

In their official duties, medical administrative assistants must be fast and efficient. They should be skilled and experienced on computers, able to enter or retrieve data quickly and pass it on to medical personnel at a moment´s notice. Medical administrative assistants must be detail-oriented and completely focused on the tasks they’re asked to perform, to guarantee patients receive the proper attention and treatment.

One of the most important skills of a medical administrative assistant is the ability to multitask. Their specific work duties will change frequently throughout the day, and new problems and challenges can arise at any moment. Since patients, doctors and nurses cannot be kept waiting, medical administrative assistants must be able to shift their focus back and forth between various tasks. They cannot become rattled by the pressure or let any detail slip by unnoticed.

Healthcare professionals who staff medical facilities must function as a team. Physicians and nurses need assistants they can count on, and that is why medical administrative assistants must be reliable above all else.

Workplace Environments

Wherever healthcare services are offered, the skills of medical administrative assistants are required. There are some differences in the nature of the work, however, depending on where they secure employment. Should you elect to pursue a career in the field, you must be aware of how your work environment will shape your job performance.

There are three primary environments that offer job opportunities for medical administrative assistants. They are:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Private medical offices

If you’re prepared to handle the hustle and bustle of a busy and unpredictable environment, hospital work could be an attractive option. Hospital patients come in search of emergency or intensive treatment services in most cases, meaning you’ll be called on to help patients get admitted quickly at times of great stress for them and their family members. Visitors to hospitals are often worried about the fate of their loved ones, and you may be called on to reassure them during some of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Since hospitals are open 24 hours a day, medical administrative assistants who work in them are often required to work late night or overnight shifts.

At clinics, acute and emergency care is generally not required. Much of your work in that environment will involve helping patients set up or check in for their appointments. You’ll collect patient data and enter it into software programs and spreadsheets, for the benefit of the medical professionals who will be offering them treatment.

The clinical environment is calmer than hospitals. But clinics are still active and busy places, and as a medical administrative assistant you must be organized and efficient to make sure things run smoothly.

If you secure employment with a private practice, you may be the only administrative assistant in the office. While the environment may be quieter, your multitasking skills will be put to the test. Your relationships with the medical providers that employ you will likely be closer and more intimate than what you’d experience in a larger facility, which means you’ll need to be just as calm and empathic with your coworkers and employers are you are with patients.

Education and Training

Those who choose to become medical administrative assistants will require either a certificate or an associate’s degree in healthcare administration to qualify for such a position. A multitude of community colleges, technical institutes and universities offer certificate and degree programs, in recognition of the fact that medical administrative assistant is a rapidly expanding job category.

Should you decide to study for a certificate, it shouldn’t take you any more than nine months to finish your coursework. You can obtain a certificate in medical or healthcare administration through in-person study, but increasingly aspiring medical administrative assistants are choosing to enroll in online programs as an alternative.

Associate’s degrees in medical or healthcare administration offer more in-depth instruction. Associate’s degree programs can take up to two years to finish, but they may provide you with a somewhat more intensive educational experience to include on your resume. Online options are also available here and can be a good choice if you’re interested in a more flexible and adaptable educational schedule.

Regardless of what type of education you pursue, practical experience will be included in your training regimen. Your college will help you arrange part-time employment with a local medical facility, to guarantee you have the type of on-the-job preparation that will impress potential employers.

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Job Prospects

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 604,780 people employed as medical administrative assistants in the United States in 2019. The demand for trained medical administrative assistants has been projected to increase by 23 percent between 2018 and 2028, making this job category one of the fastest growing among all professions. The aging of the Baby Boomer population will drive increasing demand for healthcare services in the near future, and trained medical administrative assistants will be indispensible as a result.

The mean annual wage for medical administrative assistants, who are sometimes called medical secretaries, was $38,090 in 2019. Salaries for individual workers ranged from approximately $26,000 annually on the low end to more than $53,000 on the high end. The rising need for trained workers in the field could push wages upward over the next decade, making this the perfect time to enter this important profession.