Why is it important to rethink the role of the MA?
Medical assistants (MAs) are essential staff at most primary care practices. They keep patients flowing through the clinic and ensure that providers have the information and tools they need. But MAs are often capable of doing much more. As one of the first points of contact for patients, they often have a deep knowledge of patients’ personal and medical histories. Most are also adept at using the electronic health record (EHR), and with proper training, they can play major roles in preventive care, coaching patients, and population management.
How should the role of the MA change?
Traditionally, MA activities have been limited to things like rooming patients, taking vitals, setting up equipment, and helping with paperwork. In most LEAP sites, MAs are responsible for a much broader range of activities, including:
- Helping with pre-visit planning
- Answering phones, triaging calls, and generally serving as a primary point of contact for patients
- Reconciling medications
- Scribing for providers
- Conducting patient outreach
- Health coaching and motivational interviewing
- Patient education
- Participating in quality improvement work
- Performing injections, tests, and procedures (as allowed by their license)—including EKGs, blood tests, spirometry, etc.
What do we gain by making these changes?
The benefits of encouraging MAs to take on more responsibilities include:
- Better customer service
- Better performance metrics
- More effective patient outreach
- Increased efficiency because providers and other specialized staff can focus on tasks that require their level of expertise
- Added capacity if MA role expansion allows other team members to independently take on clinician work (RNs, pharmacists, behavioral health specialists)
Select a model.
Explore the different models available among the tools and select one—or combine them—to ensure the role fits your practices culture and resources.
Check state policies.
Research your state’s policies on MA scope of work to ensure that your new model complies with state regulations and that your MAs are doing all their “license” allows. This is an action step that may apply to other team members, but we found that MA scope of practice and certification policies appeared more variable across states and had a bigger impact on MA roles than was true for other roles.
Make the business case.
You might need to build the business case at your organization for having MAs take on new tasks. It might also be necessary to hire more MAs to ensure coverage and minimize burn out.
Hire the right person.
Excellent MAs need to have a range of skills, not all of which are necessarily provided through MA training courses. Many LEAP sites hire for attitude and train for clinical knowledge and skills. Critical skills include a strong customer service orientation, an eye for detail, and the ability to work well on a team. It often helps to hire staff from the cultures and communities of patients that the clinic serves.
Provide training and supervision.
MAs often go through a formal training and certification process. However, many LEAP sites hired people with little to no health care experience and trained them to be an MA. Regardless, for MAs to take on different tasks, they will often need additional training in motivational interviewing, quality improvement, leadership, and other areas. New MAs sometimes spend up to six months training. The resources in this section will help you explore different training options for your MAs.
Provide a career ladder and opportunities for growth.
The MA role is an entry level position that often attracts smart, dedicated individuals. Providing a clear career ladder and/or opportunities for growth and skill development helps minimize turnover, improves morale, and rewards high performers.