Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.
Medical assistants typically do the following:
- Take patient history and measure vital signs
- Help the physician with patient examinations
- Give patient injections as directed by the physician
- Schedule patient appointments
- Prepare blood for laboratory tests
Electronic health records (EHRs) are changing medical assistants' jobs. More and more physicians are adopting EHRs, moving all their patient information online. Assistants need to learn the EHR software that their office uses.
Medical assistants take and record patients’ personal information. They must be able to keep that information confidential and discuss it only with other medical personnel who are involved in treating the patient.
Medical assistants should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under a physician's supervision. For more information, see the profile on physician assistants.
In larger practices or hospitals, medical assistants may specialize in either administrative or clinical work.
Administrative medical assistants often fill out insurance forms or code patients’ medical information. Some assistants buy and store supplies and equipment for the office.
Clinical medical assistants have different duties, depending on the state where they work. They may do basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize medical instruments. They might have additional responsibilities, such as instructing patients about medication or special diets, preparing patients for x rays, removing stitches, drawing blood, or changing dressings.
Some medical assistants specialize in a specific type of medical office.
Ophthalmic medical assistants and optometric assistants help ophthalmologists and optometrists, respectively, provide eye care. They show patients how to insert, remove, and care for contact lenses. Ophthalmic medical assistants also may help an ophthalmologist in surgery.
Podiatric medical assistants work closely with podiatrists (foot doctors). They may make castings of feet, expose and develop x rays, and help podiatrists in surgery.
Medical Equipment Repairers
Medical equipment repairers install, maintain, and repair patient care equipment.
Medical equipment repairers typically do the following:
- Test and calibrate parts and equipment
- Repair and replace parts
- Perform preventive maintenance and service
- Keep records of maintenance and repairs
- Review technical manuals and regularly attend training sessions
- Explain and demonstrate correct operation of medical equipment
Medical equipment repairers, also known as biomedical equipment technicians (BMET), repair a wide variety of electronic, electromechanical, and hydraulic equipment used in hospitals and health practitioners’ offices. They may work on patient monitors, defibrillators, medical imaging equipment (X rays, CAT scanners, and ultrasound equipment), voice-controlled operating tables, and electric wheelchairs, as well as on sophisticated medical equipment that dentists and eye doctors use.
If a machine has problems or is not functioning to its potential, the repairer may have to adjust the mechanical or hydraulic parts, or adjust the software to bring electronic equipment back into calibration. To do their work, medical equipment repairers use a variety of tools. They may use hand tools, such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and soldering irons. They may use electronic tools, such as multimeters (an electronic measuring device that combines several measures) and computers. Many of the pieces of equipment that they maintain and repair use specialized software, and repairers use that software to adjust the machines.
Many doctors, particularly specialty practitioners, rely on complex medical devices to run tests and diagnose patients, and they must be confident that the readings are accurate. Therefore, medical equipment repairers sometimes do routine scheduled maintenance to ensure that all equipment is in good working order.
In a hospital setting, medical equipment repairers must be comfortable working around patients because repairs occasionally must take place while equipment is being used. When this is the case, the repairer must take great care to ensure that repairs do not disturb patients.
Although some medical equipment repairers are trained to fix a variety of equipment, others specialize in repairing one or a small number of machines. For less complicated equipment, such as electric hospital beds, workers make repairs as needed.