It is essential that medical assistants have a solid understanding of their scope of practice to deliver the safest care in the types of settings where they traditionally work. At its core, scope of practice basically refers to staying in one’s lane without swerving, or sticking to the workplace duties one is allowed to do. In fancier phraseology, scope of practice dictates the tasks and workplace duties that a trained healthcare worker is deemed competent to perform and allowed to engage in, under the terms of his or her professional licensing and/or certification.
So, why is scope of practice a topic that medical assistants must be completely familiar with? It is because scope of practice legally defines what kinds of tasks and procedures that medical assistants can and cannot ever do. In other words, scope of practice is the fine line between what medical assistants are able to do versus the tasks that are not lawfully permissible for them to carry out. Some states, such as California and Rhode Island, have legally defined medical assistant scopes of practice. Many states do not, although these states operate under delegation rules.
Delegation is defined as the assignment of a task to a qualified individual while remaining ultimately responsible for the performance of that task. So when a physician or provider delegates a task such as vaccinations to a medical assistant, the provider remains responsible for the outcome of how the vaccinations were performed. Physicians traditionally delegate safe tasks and procedures to medical assistants, such as injections, billing, vital sign measurement, rooming patients, sterilizing equipment, scheduling appointments, and so forth.
Physicians are not allowed to delegate tasks and procedures for which the medical assistant has not received appropriate education and/or training. This would include highly complex procedures that require rotations in medical school such as organ transplantation, heart surgery, fibroid removal, sharp wound debridement, blood transfusions, and so on. Therefore, medical assistants who perform procedural skills that are not considered acceptable for their level of training may be held liable for poor outcomes to patients and/or lose their certifications.
A medical assistant is an allied healthcare worker who assists providers in healthcare settings such as doctors offices, clinics, hospitals, agencies and multi-specialty practices within a limited scope of procedural skills and duties under a licensed provider’s delegation. As a multifaceted team member, a medical assistant can perform a wide variety of tasks and duties. Most medical assistants secure employment in positions that involve helping medical offices run more smoothly. A medical assistant’s scope of practice and job duties will include tasks such as:
- Greeting and checking patients in and out
- Answering telephones and emails
- Collecting blood and other specimens
- Scheduling appointments
- Stocking supplies and rooming patients
- Reporting changes in condition to medical staff
- Administering medications, including injections
- Performing wound care
- Verifying patients’ insurance information
- Measuring and recording vital signs
- Assisting the physician with medical office procedures
- Sterilizing soiled equipment
- Performing documentation and filing
- Applying casts and slings
- Collecting co-payment and co-insurance amounts
- Sanitizing and disinfecting commonly used equipment