In 2012, Americans visited a doctor’s office 928 million times. And it’s probably safe to say that the first person each person interacted with was the receptionist — or medical administrative assistant — as they checked in. While checking in patients is an important part of the job, medical administrative assistants do so much more.
Are you looking for a career that is patient facing, but also has many tasks behind-the-scenes?
We’ve broken down everything you need to know from basic job duties to the major differences by location so you can decide if it’s the career for you.
Role of a medical administrative assistant
Medical administrative assistants, or medical secretaries, perform administrative functions for a hospital or clinic through their knowledge of medical terminology and applications. They can work in a variety of roles and locations with job titles ranging from unit secretary or medical office specialist to patient coordinator.
Medical administrative assistant job duties
Medical secretaries are responsible for a wide range of administrative tasks to ensure the office they are managing functions smoothly. These tasks can vary by location but typically include:
- Checking in patients at the front desk
- Answering the phone
- Scheduling patients for the proper appointment
- Interviewing patients for case histories in advance of appointments
- Compiling medical records and charts
- Process insurance payments
- Operating computer software and office equipment
- Transferring lab results to the appropriate clinician
- Maintaining supplies and appearance for the office
Medical administrative assistant work locations
Responsibilities can vary quite a bit depending upon where a medical administrative assistant works. The size of the facility, scope of procedures and geographical location can all play a major part in how duties are divvied out to employees.
What does a medical administrative assistant do in a hospital?
Hospitals are some of the largest types of facilities in which a medical admin can work. With large facilities, roles and responsibilities are more specialized and clearly defined. But this also comes with more opportunities for advancement because there are more people working in the facility.
Depending upon the department, there can be emergencies coming in continuously so hospital employees need to know what their role is and be able to perform quickly.
It is also important for those working at the front desk to convey a calming demeanor, especially in emergency departments. There are many different types of patients that come in, such as new mothers or those with serious injuries, and it’s the medical admin’s job to keep the patients as calm as can be and keep them updated as to when they’ll be seen by the doctor.
Hospitals also require a less flexible schedule — or a more flexible schedule, depending on how you look at it. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so they need employees to work each shift including nights and weekends. This usually comes along with better pay since hospitals generally have more capital at their disposal.
What does a medical administrative assistant do in a clinic?
A clinic differs from a hospital because it usually is limited to a few specialties, like primary care and pediatrics, and has regular business hours. While a medical admin working in a hospital will likely work 12-hour shifts three days a week, clinic hours are mainly done by dinner time.
A majority of the appointments are pre-scheduled standard wellness appointments, screenings and specialty visits as opposed to the quick fire emergencies found in an emergency room or hospital, says Carrie Arrowood, medical secretary for Marshfield Clinic in Wausau, Wisconsin.
While the front desk may still need advanced customer service skills, the life or death situations are few and far between.
What does a medical administrative assistant do in a private practice?
The smaller the practice, the fewer the employees and the less clearly roles are defined. Private physician practices often have an “all hands on deck” philosophy and expect employees of all levels to have expanded responsibilities beyond the duties you would find in a standard description like those listed above. They need to be able to answer a question for a patient if no one else is available.
Small practices like to focus on a team environment, says Lashelle Davis, office manager at The Virginia Institute, a boutique plastic surgery facility in Virginia. This type of entrepreneurial thinking empowers employees to pick up on tasks as they are needed.
Since there is only one medical receptionist working in the office, it’s also really important that they can prioritize tasks, Davis emphasized. It’s a common occurrence that the receptionist will be greeting a patient and the phone will ring and the doctor will ask for something all at once. A successful medical admin will be able to execute all without getting overwhelmed.
To sum it up …
You are not the first person to wonder: What does a medical administrative assistant do? They are at the front lines of your doctor’s office experience but most of their work happens behind the scenes after that point, adding to the sense of mystery.
Whether the patient sees it or not, medical admins perform an integral role in keeping the machine running. From your first phone call to making sure your test results get to the right place, hospitals or clinics would not be able to function without them.
Do you see yourself in a role that requires organization, digital expertise and the ability to prioritize? If these job descriptions pique your interest, check out Rasmussen College’s medical administration program page to find out more about what a medical admin certificate could mean for you.