From Modern Healthcare

The new heroes of American healthcare do not have medical degrees. Many have only high school diplomas and perform their jobs with an additional year or two of formal training. On average, they earn $30,000 to $40,000 annually. A large number have never worked in healthcare before. They work as employees, and almost all are female. They are the indispensable go-to workers of the new American healthcare system, because they are inexpensive to use and can be plugged into many different workflows within a medical setting. They are medical assistants.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical duties under the direction of a physician. In 2014 there were almost 600,000 medical assistants employed in the U.S. Most of them work in physician offices, primarily in ambulatory-care settings. Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS.

Medical assistants have been around for decades, but they are being used more now than ever before. They make doctors' workdays easier, nurses able to devote more time to duties equal to their skills, and patients gain easier access to care. No other workers in healthcare are involved in such a variety of different duties. Physicians increasingly rely on assistants as their jack-of-all-trades support staff. Among their many roles, they take vital signs, conduct preliminary patient interviews, perform some patient testing and provide post-visit instructions and support. Many patients in primary care now have more face and phone time with a medical assistant than they do with their primary-care doctor, who increasingly is hidden from our view, funneled toward the most complex patient visits coming through their doors each day.

Beyond their direct interface with patients, medical assistants support the quality reporting and performance measurement work in today's doctors' offices, often making sure quality data are complete and accurate within electronic health records, tracking down needed information, steering patients to required services, and getting performance data to the various insurance plans and accrediting agencies. This work is increasingly important for healthcare organizations to get paid and for patients to get better care.

Read the full post on Modern Healthcare

Timothy Hoff

Professor of Management, Healthcare Systems, and Health Policy; Visiting Associate Fellow, Oxford University