Frontline health care workers are today’s heroes. During a public health crisis, they’re needed more than ever. But as the American population grows and ages, it’s becoming clear there are too few staff to serve the growing number of patients.
If you’re interested in an exciting health care career, now’s the time to consider becoming a medical assistant. A vocational school training program takes just 7½ months to complete, and you can take your place at the frontline in the battle against this unprecedented pandemic.
What Is a Frontline Health Care Worker?
A frontline health care worker is anyone considered necessary to the well-being of patients. Doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians are among the most essential, but they can’t do it alone.
Without trained support staff, patients would receive less one-on-one time from doctors and nurses. This gives medical assistants an important role in frontline care.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do During a Pandemic?
A medical assistant supports clinical and administrative professionals in a health care setting. Most work in doctors’ offices, but their roles in hospitals and clinics are expanding.
What do medical assistants do that’s so critical in a pandemic? What most people don’t know about health care is the amount of administrative work involved. It doesn’t go away just because there’s a pandemic. From maintaining medical records and submitting timely insurance claims to taking vital signs and assisting with minor surgical procedures, a medical assistant’s contributions to frontline care can’t be overstated.
During a public health crisis, the higher volume of patients seeking primary care can be overwhelming, as doctors’ phones are ringing off the hook. Officials have asked the sick to call their physician before going to the emergency room for symptoms that could indicate a contagious illness, such as a cough, fever, and shortness of breath. These seriously ill patients need a doctor’s attention in real time, but private practices have never been asked to deal with such an influx of acutely ill patients. They need help.
Medical assistants contribute by managing tasks that require expertise but not a physician or nurse, such as triaging phone calls, managing the reception area, taking vital signs, and other important medical duties during a pandemic.
Triaging Phone Calls
A medical assistant has the clinical training to recognize which symptoms need immediate attention and which can wait. When calls come in, a medical assistant sends inquiries to the appropriate providers, tagging those that seem urgent.
Taking accurate notes and streamlining information improves response time. In a pandemic, there’s not a minute to waste.
Medical assistants may also help manage the schedule. In most private practices, a medical secretary makes appointments, but patient acuity rises during a public health emergency. A medical assistant is better trained to know which concerns need attention first.
Managing the Reception Area
Long waits to see the doctor get longer during a pandemic, and flu season can be challenging. Keeping the reception area clean and safe for patients is always essential, but it becomes even more important during a pandemic because of infection control.
When patients visit, they bring their germs with them, and enclosed spaces such as waiting rooms can be breeding grounds for dangerous microorganisms. A medical assistant helps keep patients safe by taking measures to control pathogens. Following are some of the tasks medical assistants perform.
- Scheduling patients as far apart as possible to avoid prolonged exposure
- Prescreening the sick for contagious symptoms as soon as they arrive
- Keeping sick and well patients separate whenever possible
- Encouraging cough etiquette and hand hygiene among waiting patients
- Disinfecting surfaces, such as doorknobs and reception counters frequently
Medical assistants can also make the most of the waiting time by reviewing medical history forms before exams and sharing educational material. It’s the ideal time to answer new patients’ questions about staying healthy during a pandemic.
Taking Vital Signs
Vital signs tell doctors a lot about their patients’ health. Changing trends suggest illness. Medical assistants measure blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, and temperature at each visit for comparison, and they notify the doctor when readings are not in normal range.
Lab tests are part of many exams, but in a pandemic, testing for contagious disease ramps us. Medical assistants are responsible for obtaining biological samples of blood, urine, feces, or sputum when needed and educating patients about how they will be used. Proper sampling technique is vital to ensure accurate results. It’s a technical task requiring attention to detail.
Performing Diagnostic Tests
Tests, such as EKGs, done in doctors’ offices allow health care facilities to defer routine care of well patients while physicians tend to people infected by COVID-19.
Updating Medical Records
Continuity of care depends on accurate medical records. Medical assistants are charged with updating health data from symptoms to allergy lists at each visit.
If a patient subsequently needs to see another provider or go to the emergency room, a quick look at the notes tells a doctor which treatments have been administered and how the patient’s condition has changed. Errors in medical records can cause life-threatening mistakes.
Filing Insurance Claims
Most health care transactions in the U.S. are paid for by a third party. Submitting timely insurance claims is necessary for physician reimbursement. But in a pandemic, claims also have another function. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) uses them to track public health data and create guidance for health care professionals and communities.
Each condition for which a doctor provides services is assigned a standardized alphanumeric code used both by insurers and public health officials. Precise coding allows the CDC to know how many pandemic affected patients doctors are seeing, which symptoms are the most common, and how they can help.
Maintaining Infection Control
Adhering to strict infection control procedures in a medical office is critical for slowing the spread of transmissible disease. Waiting rooms, exam rooms, and shared medical equipment can spread germs. Medical assistants are responsible for disinfecting them between patients.
Medical assistants serve as liaisons between patients and their health care team, answering questions and providing emotional support through confusing times. Early in a pandemic, a frontline worker often has information patients don’t. Offering knowledgeable advice prevents panic.
Why Become a Medical Assistant Now?
As millions of baby boomers are reaching retirement age, the need for preventive health care is skyrocketing. The demand for qualified medical assistants already exceeds supply.
But if there’s anything the pandemic has underscored, it’s that by the time a public health crisis occurs, it may be too late to train more frontline workers. Employers are staffing their offices right now, and those jobs won’t go away.
Students can complete a medical assisting program in 7½ months when attending full-time. There’s never been a better time to think about the future.
While there are many ways you can help your community through a crisis, being a frontline health care worker is among the most courageous. There’s no telling how long COVID-19 will affect the country.
We can hope it ends soon, but one thing we know for certain is that the need for medical assistants is here to stay.
Want to learn more about this exciting new career as a medical assistant on the frontline? The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.
The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in an actual medical environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.
Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.