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    What exactly is a "Medical Assistant"?

    What exactly is a "medical assistant"? How does one become one? And, why am I trusting a medical assistant to handle certain aspects of my wellness checkups at my doctor's office. Are there no nurses anymore?

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    A medical assistant is a combination of a clerical job plus low level clinical. So this person has been through a formal medical assistant training program, which usually takes a year or so at either a community college or trade school.

    They handle things in a medical office such as scheduling, medical records, bookkeeping, and basic clinical tasks such as showing patients to the room, taking vitals, taking patient histories, etc. Medical assistants work under the supervision of the physician. What a medical assistant can do clinically varies by state.

    You may be seeing more use of medical assistants v. nurses because, to be blunt, medical assistants are cheaper.
    Last edited by GarrAarghHrumph; 01-25-2011 at 03:50 PM.
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    They also give injections, put on dressings, draw blood, do urine dipstick tests, as well as assist physicians during in-office procedures like suturing.

    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-a-...sistant-do.htm
    Front Office

    Secretarial work
    Contact with insurance companies
    Answering phones and making appointments
    Ordering supplies
    Greeting patients
    Pulling and filing patient charts
    Calling in or faxing prescriptions
    Converting charts to electronic charting


    Back Office

    Escorting patients to rooms
    Weighing patients
    Taking blood pressure
    Taking medical histories
    Listening or questioning patients on current health issues or the issue of concern for this visit
    Assisting doctors with medical procedures
    Giving injections or drawing blood
    Clarifying doctor’s instructions with a patient
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

    from Speedy Death

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    So basically it's a somewhat non-professional person that went through some one year program so they could get a job paying a little more than minimum wage.

    Why would I want this person to handle some areas of my, or more importantly my kids health?

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    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    So basically it's a somewhat non-professional person that went through some one year program so they could get a job paying a little more than minimum wage.

    Why would I want this person to handle some areas of my, or more importantly my kids health?
    Taking blood pressure, drawing blood and giving injections is not rocket science but rather a matter of practice. But if you want your doctor to keep a very expensive registered nurse to perform these low skill tasks, are you willing to shoulder the price difference of your health care?
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

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    Along the same line of question, what is a physician's assistant? Is that the same thing? When my mom was in the nursing home for rehab recently, she saw an actual doctor maybe twice (once that I know of). All other visits from her doctor's office were made by the physician's assistant.

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    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

    from Speedy Death

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    My mom works as a medical assistant. She required no additional training, as she'd been a CNA for years and was used to taking vital signs, documenting patient complaints/observations, etc. She doesn't give shots or draw blood (that would require different training/certification, so she is I guess not an "official" medical assistant).

    To her credit, whenever a patient calls her "nurse", she gently corrects them, saying she has a daughter who is a nurse who went through a great deal of schooling to be called that, and she herself hasn't
    I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.~W. C. Fields

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flatfoote View Post
    Along the same line of question, what is a physician's assistant? Is that the same thing? When my mom was in the nursing home for rehab recently, she saw an actual doctor maybe twice (once that I know of). All other visits from her doctor's office were made by the physician's assistant.
    A physician's assistant is not a medical assistant. Two different jobs. A PA has gone through a post-graduate (post-bachelors) program for physician's assisting. They do work under a physician's supervision, but they can handle high level clinical work.
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    Quote Originally Posted by IceAlisa View Post
    They also give injections, put on dressings, draw blood...
    Depends on the state, and in some states, on what additional training/certifications they've received.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    So basically it's a somewhat non-professional person that went through some one year program so they could get a job paying a little more than minimum wage...
    No, this is a professional job that requires specific education and training. And in many states, they must become a CMA in order to work - certified medical assistant, which means their program meets certain requirements, is accredited in specific ways, and they've sat a national exam. I don't know if that's true for your state, though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    So basically it's a somewhat non-professional person that went through some one year program so they could get a job paying a little more than minimum wage.

    Why would I want this person to handle some areas of my, or more importantly my kids health?
    Because they're just taking some simple measurements and recording data that would otherwise take the doctor -- often a primary care doctor -- several minutes to do. Primary care doctors already receive very, very low reimbursements for office visits, so they pretty much have to make very efficient use of their time or go broke.

    I saw my internist for a physical in December. After her medical assistant took height, wt, blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and confirmed meds and supplements, my doctor then spent twenty-five minutes with me. She'll probably deal with at least three phone calls this year from me, and will write several prescriptions, and I'll probably talk to her nurse (her R.N.) several times as well. For all this work she got paid less than half of what my dermatologist's office got paid for a 5 minute skin cancer check and a quick (under five minute) biopsy of a suspicious spot (that turned out to be nothing at all), both of which were done by the dermatologist's P.A.

    The system is seriously underpaying primary care doctors.

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    Medical Assistants get paid more than a little over minimum wage. My cousin has been a CMA for ten years and makes around $14 an hour. Payscale.com reports a current average starting wage over $10 an hour. It is certainly not an unskilled or unprofessional job. Her training was over a year and included national certification exams.

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    Quote Originally Posted by IceAlisa View Post
    Taking blood pressure, drawing blood and giving injections is not rocket science but rather a matter of practice. But if you want your doctor to keep a very expensive registered nurse to perform these low skill tasks, are you willing to shoulder the price difference of your health care?
    Yes. I'd rather have a nurse. It's unfortunate that's not the way it seems to be anymore.

    Why not just install one of those machines like at Target for the blood pressure? The lab draws the blood and I can get my shot at Walmart. (and I'm only half kidding)

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    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    Yes. I'd rather have a nurse. It's unfortunate that's not the way it seems to be anymore.
    It's really like requesting a neurosurgeon to put a Band Aid on a boo boo. But if you want, you could find a posh private practice that's cash only and charges $500+ a visit. None of those riff raff MAs there. Le shrug.

    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    Why not just install one of those machines like at Target for the blood pressure? The lab draws the blood and I can get my shot at Walmart. (and I'm only half kidding)
    As a matter of fact BPs are taken by machines these days, operated by nurses or MAs as the case may be. I don't understand the need for an overqualified individual to perform rather simple tasks. People take their own temps and BPs all the time. Drawing blood and giving injections are skills that are given more than enough time to learn and practice in a typical MA course.

    It's not like the MA is determining the course of treatment, making clinical decisions or writing Rx.
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    Quote Originally Posted by IceAlisa View Post
    It's really like requesting a neurosurgeon to put a Band Aid on a boo boo. But if you want, you could find a posh private practice that's cash only and charges $500+ a visit. None of those riff raff MAs there. Le shrug.



    ...
    Well gee, keep that assembly line going by all means.

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    Dupa, I'm really trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does it bother you to have an MA perform these relatively simple tasks, which they've been specifically trained to do? Is there something specific that you're concerned will go wrong?

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    Quote Originally Posted by dupa View Post
    Well gee, keep that assembly line going by all means.


    I personally find MAs an important part of modern medical practice. Good ones can make your life as a clinician easier and the patient's experience at the office pleasant and smooth.
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

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    What's interesting is when you say you just want a nurse- it could mean a huge range of training too- an LPN/ LVN are fairly low level, but even with RN there are ones who went to community colleges and others who got Bachelor's. (And then there are CNA's, which aren't really even nurses.)

    (A friend who did her RN through a 4-year college and got a Bachelor's degree said she thinks that if actual nursing is your focus, a community college is better- they were all really prepared for the job, and she was rather caught by surprise by the realities. She, however, ended up going into public heath, which requires a Master's, so having gotten the Bachelor's was very useful, and she's glad she did nursing, because it's easier to enforce policy among nurses if you've been one previously.)

    Now, I don't know exactly what it takes to get an LPN, but it appears most programs are only a year. And they are further trained than an MA is.

    The thing I'm always confused about is the difference between a PA and an NP. I currently go to an NP who has her own practice- she has a supervising physcian, but he is out of the hospital. But in most places NPs work in physcian's practices, and so do PA's. Can a PA prescribe a drug without a doctor's approval? My NP definetly can... she does all my primary care.

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    The Wiki link about PAs talks about the difference between PA and NP. The former is based on the physician model and the latter on the nursing model. There are specifics of autonomy that are different as well.

    Who knows, perhaps dupa wants an NP to take her temp and BP.
    "Nature is a damp, inconvenient sort of place where birds and animals wander about uncooked."

    from Speedy Death

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