The clinical medical assistant works in the back office, which is the area where the patient goes to be examined, evaluated, and treated. They call the patients in from the waiting room, ask for the reason for the visit, take their vital signs, write down current medications, and allergies, organize the medical table and instrument tray, annotate the medical chart for the doctor and make sure the patient is comfortable and ready for the exam. If the patient needs to change into an examination gown or needs to be draped and positioned on the examination chair or table they will assist and assure their privacy and safety. Before leaving the exam room the medical assistant will sift through the patient’s medical chart one more time to assure it is complete, including recent lab results and radiological reports if this is a follow-up visit. Once everything is all set they place the patient’s medical chart into the holder outside the door which is the “universal sign” that the patient is ready for the doctor.
Male physicians who perform gynecological, anal, rectal, and breast exams on a female patient and vice versa, female physicians performing genital and anal, rectal exams on male patients prefer to have their medical assistant present with them in the exam room during the examination. The medical assistant serves as a chaperone to avert any misunderstandings or claims of abuse. It often also helps to make a patient more comfortable during the exam. A medical assistant chaperone can also be also utilized during a physical examination of a pediatric patient, however, this should primarily be a shared decision between the patient and pediatrician. Some states mandate the use of a chaperone when a child is examined. In the revised AAP policy statement “Use of Chaperones During the Physical Examination of the Pediatric Patient” in the May 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online on April 25), issues of patient comfort, privacy and confidentiality are discussed.
Between seating patients and assisting the physician, a clinical medical assistant must keep medication closets stocked and maintained, expired medications removed and disposed of, a clean and safe work environment maintained and automated office and diagnostic equipment kept clean, calibrated, and serviced.
Minor surgeries: Clinical medical assistants set up needed instruments and equipment, drape the patient for a procedure, assist during and after minor diagnostic surgeries, and surgical instruments are properly cleaned, wrapped, and sterilized.
Specimen collection: If the physician orders specimens the clinical medical assistant will obtain and label them, preserve, package and send them to the appropriate reference laboratory, or run a simple on-the-spot diagnostic screening test in a designated area of the medical office while the patient waits.
Point of Care screening tests: In-house quick diagnostic tests on specimens are done using simple automated equipment or prepackaged “quick tests”. These point of care screening tests may include blood typing, urinalysis, vaginal smears, anemia hemoglobin testing, rapid mono, and strep tests, influenza testing from a nasal swab, spirometry, audiometry, blood pressure, cardiac, pulmonary, and various other simple tests. These preliminary test results are immediately reported back to the ordering physician so appropriate treatment can be determined without delay until further tests come in.
It is important that medical assistants understand the communication process well. Developing excellent communication skills is just as important as mastering clinical tasks. The medical assistant must have the ability to show empathy and sensitivity for each patient, which often is expressed through communication and touch. They must be able to read the mood of the patient, the physical capabilities, mental status, and communication skills of their patient. We are not saying that the medical assistant needs to be a psychiatrist – what we are saying is that the medical assistant must assist the patient in controlling their stress levels and making the visit a pleasant one. Clinical medical assistants who understand medical procedures are in an excellent position to alleviate and ease stress and frustrations through good communication. As a matter of fact, the medical assistant is often the ONLY person who can keep patients at ease BEFORE they are seen by the doctor.