By Julie Morris, Author and Health Care Professional
Each October, the American Association of Medical Assistants celebrates Medical Assistants Recognition Week (October 19–23, 2020) and Medical Assistants Recognition Day (October 21, 2020). This year is no exception when it comes to honoring these health care providers, except that this year these same providers had to face a daunting new struggle: dealing with the novel Coronavirus in both their personal and professional lives.
Defining the Medical Assistant Role
If you’ve ever been to a medical office, it’s highly likely you’ve engaged with a Medical Assistant at some point in your visit. The Medical Assistant interacts with patients from the front desk to the end of a clinical visit, capturing accurate vital signs, reviewing patient history, assisting the provider and more. But before they check your blood pressure or enter your medical history into your electronic health record, they must first become educated on the role. The preparation to become a Medical Assistant requires a certificate or an associate’s degree from an accredited educational institution and most practices require certification from a professional accrediting body.
Medical Assistants in Sub-Specialty Practices
When contemplating the impact of SARS-CoV-2 and the day-to-day operations of a clinical practice, it becomes clear that Medical Assistants are most definitely frontline providers. A recent conversation with two specialty providers and the MAs in their offices bring this central thought into focus—providers could not care for their patients without the skill and dependability of their Medical Assistants.
I spoke with an orthopedic surgeon who tested positive, negative, and positive again for COVID-19 within a span of 72 hours. He had no symptoms, but was still required to quarantine for 14 days. This was just one aspect of how COVID-19 impacted him. Unfortunately, his mother died during his quarantine and he was unable to be with her. The virus has also had a huge impact on the financial aspect of his practice. Clinic traffic remains stable, but elective orthopedic surgery is down 30%. When addressing the role of the Medical Assistant in this practice, he stated, “I couldn’t run this clinical practice or the telemedicine aspect of patient care without our Medical Assistants. [They] are so vital because they know our preferences, the procedures commonly performed, and keep the flow of the clinic smooth.”
Primary concerns in the Time of COVID-19
Medical Assistants in this practice credit the strict following of protocol with keeping them safe and their anxiety manageable. Both MAs have had extended family and friends who have been infected with the virus and some who have died. This practice is associated with a large hospital organization that was very proactive in providing PPE and establishing the policies for protecting both patients and Medical Assistants. One challenge is those who don’t believe COVID-19 is real and show up to the practice with a fever or positive screening test. These patients must be turned away.
A Harvard-trained urogynecologist and reconstructive surgeon indicated that sub-specialties have not had the same exposure to COVID-19 as primary care practices. However, her practice could not deliver the level of care for their patients without a stable, well-trained staff. She stated, “MAs are the backbone of the practice. Our patients depend on the quality care they provide. We depend on accurate, complete reporting of patient histories. Patient-Medical Assistant interaction is critical. I don’t know what I would do without our medical assisting staff.” Their practice has minimized the number of patients seen daily, providing more time to clean and sanitize exam rooms. She feels the impact of COVID-19 is much smaller on providers than on Medical Assistants.
Medical Assistants at Home
As Medical Assistants are still predominantly female and primary caregivers at home, there are more stressors for them related to caring for family members and managing the education of their children. The Medical Assistants in the reconstructive practice agree. When discussing with the Medical Assistants at these practices what their biggest concerns were, it was unanimous that the gravest concern was the health of their own families. They worry about interacting in a caring manner with their patients, following practice protocol and protecting their families.
One spoke of removing work clothes and showering immediately upon returning home, of having to leave a 13-year-old home alone with school not in physical session, and of being grateful to have a steady job in these uncertain times. Another talked about her parents losing their business and other family financial struggles in this time of COVID-19. Both outlined the need for more education for the public in basic things like how to appropriately wear a mask. They use their time with patients to provide this type of education.
Recognizing Medical Assistants
No one can fully express Medical Assistants’ knowledge and contributions to patient care. They are a valuable part of any practice—specialty or otherwise. Each Medical Assistant comes to know the practitioners they work with and makes up a valuable part of a cohesive team. Continuing education is so important, and MAs rely on their professional accrediting organizations, like AAMA, to keep them abreast of changes in scope of practice and in areas of specialty.
For more information about Medical Assisting, visit the AAMA website.
Discover how you can recognize Medical Assistants this week on the AAMA Medical Assistants Recognition Week page.