• The_value_of_medical_assistants

    By Michael Mileski, DC, MPH, MHA, MSHEd, LNFA

    As a medical assistant, you may be wondering exactly what your value is in the workforce. If you have completed any clinical time, you might even be wondering how you are of value to the office in which you have provided care. 

    Quite simply, your value is high, and it will continue to get higher as we go through the next 20 or so years. Consider what is coming—the aging of the baby boomer generation—and what part you are about to play in caring for the largest generational population ever.

    The Baby Boomers 

    This population includes patients who were born between 1946 and 1964, and next year brings the 70th birthday of the oldest of the generation. It is important that medical assistants understand exactly what this means, and how much of an impact this population will have upon the environment in which you work.

    The average life expectancy in the United States is 79.56 years (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015). Current research shows us that most health care expenditures occur in the last 3 years of life (National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, 2012). As you can surmise, we are about to see a great influx of patients into the offices of physicians, clinics, and hospitals. Certainly, those numbers will be small to begin with; however, it is estimated that we will be lacking approximately 1.6 million direct care workers as we move into this timeframe (Barr, 2014). In addition, much of the current workforce of caregivers is about to go into retirement, as they themselves are baby boomers. This means we will not only need to provide more care per caregiver, but we will need to do it in a much smarter fashion.

    Where Does This Leave the Medical Assistant? 

    Today’s medical assistant is in a very interesting position when it comes to the part they will play in upcoming years in the provision of care. Considering the statistics mentioned, your role will become more and more important as we see increased numbers of baby boomers pouring into our offices, many of which are already stretched to the limits of patient visits. The part you play will begin to increase with our upcoming patient loads.

    It is conceivable that you will see your role begin to change over the next several years, and you need to begin to prepare for that transition now. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to your education. The more you understand, the more you will be able to do in the environment in which you provide care, and the more opportunities will come your way for doing so.

    You ARE the Front Line of Care 

    As we begin to visualize this transition in our care population, you will begin to see changes in what you need to be doing. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are still unfair perceptions out there regarding what you can bring to the healthcare team, and it becomes your responsibility to prove those perceptions about medical assistants wrong (Hinton, 2009). In fact, there is research to show that many of these negative perceptions of the medical assistant by other health care team members are often due to miscommunication.

    • According to Martinez, Bigney, and Jernigan (2014), the following areas could be improved to correct this issue:
    • Learn to anticipate the needs of the physician; this can improve efficiency of operations.
    • Foster a comfortable relationship between yourself and others in the health care team; this way there is good coordination of care.
    • Physician and medical assistant relationships need to become clearer, and better communications need to happen between the two.
    • Be upfront in communicating your needs to the health care team. If you are having problems doing your job, you need to be able to let others know so they can help, assist, or correct things for you.

    Your Changing Value 

    In the words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changing.” This should ring true to each of you beginning your career. You are poised to enter the medical field at one of the most important times in the history of medicine. Your patients will need more from you, want more from you, expect more from you, and require more from you on a daily basis. You are poised to be the drivers behind many new programs that are being rolled out into medical practices today as a result of changes we have seen with the Affordable Care Act. Patient satisfaction is key for our success today. The baby boomers are going to change the landscape of the medical offices you are currently used to. They are going to change them for not only the better, but also to more closely meet their own expectations.

    With changing expectations comes a change in what we do. You may not only be checking in patients, providing care, doing simple medical procedures, or what you are accustomed to today. We are seeing a quick paradigm shift in which the value of the medical assistant’s role in the office is increasing. A study by Ferrer, Mody-Bailey, Jaén, Gott, and Araujo (2009) showed great value in medical assistants being the main drivers behind certain programs to increase compliance and health in the population. Furthermore, in other countries, the significance of what the medical assistant can bring to the table is becoming more fully realized. According to Chowdhury, Thompson, Ali, Alam, Yunus, and Streatfield (2010), a well-trained medical assistant could substitute for a physician in certain circumstances. Until then however, always be certain to operate within your scope of practice.

    Where You Are Going 

    You are nearing the advent of a new day in health care. Each day we move forward, the value that you bring to your field will continue to grow. However, you must remember that you need to grow with it. Keep your focus on improving your skills, your knowledge, and your abilities. It has always been about positioning yourself for the future, and that becomes even more important today and as you move forward. Your increased competence and abilities in customer service will serve as your guide as we reach this new crossroads in caring.

    Michael Mileski is a professor at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.

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  • References

    Barr, P. (2014). The boomer challenge. Hospitals & Health Networks. Retrieved from http://www.hhnmag.com/Magazine/2014/Jan/cover-story-baby-boomers.  

    Central Intelligence Agency. (2015). Life expectancy at birth. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html.  

    Chowdhury, H. R., Thompson, S. C., Ali, M., Alam, N., Yunus, M., & Streatfield, P. K. (2010). A comparison of physicians and medical assistants in interpreting verbal autopsy interviews for allocating cause of neonatal death in Matlab, Bangladesh: can medical assistants be considered an alternative to physicians? Population Health Metrics, 823-30. doi:10.1186/1478-7954-8-23.

    Ferrer, R. L., Mody-Bailey, P., Jaén, C. R., Gott, S., & Araujo, S. (2009). A medical assistant–based program to promote healthy behaviors in primary care. The Annals of Family Medicine, 7(6), 504-512.

    Hinton, D. (2009). Networking Forum Sheds Insight into MA Views and Work Experiences. Dermatology Nursing, 21(6), 348.

    Martinez, M., Bigney, J., & Jernigan, J. (2014). A Feedback Tool to Improve Physician-Medical Assistant Communication. Family Practice Management, 215-9. doi:10.1016/S1069-5648(14)60030-7.

    National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation. (2012). The concentration of health care spending. Retrieved from http://www.nihcm.org/pdf/DataBrief3%20Final.pdf.  

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