According to the current U.S. Department of Labor’s “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” a career now termed “medical assisting” is among the fastest-developing jobs in the American economy with a growth rate of 31 percent. With a median income of almost $29,000 in 2010 and an unregulated degree of education and training required, a position as a medical assistant can provide job stability, a livable salary, opportunities for additional education and chances for promotion and greater pay with completion of additional education and state licensure.
The New Degree in Healthcare: An Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
Medical assisting is a combination of health care positions, office skills, insurance billing and medical transcription. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) with a few months of education and successful completion of a certification examination have been responsible for measuring patient height, weight and vitals signs for years. Phlebotomists are certified to draw blood for laboratory testing after a brief period of education, practice and certification. EKG technicians are trained to place electrodes in proper order on a patient and turn on the machine to produce an EKG for later evaluation by the patient’s doctors.
Recently, some schools have begun to offer medical assistant educational programs to train students in the clinical aspects of patient care as well as the clerical skills to man the front office of a medical practice. Graduates of such programs are awarded an associate degree in the field and are able to choose to specialize in the clinical or the clerical aspect of their degrees. Individuals interested in pursuing more sophisticated types of clinical care can continue their studies to become Registered Nurses, Radiology Technicians, Invasive Cardiovascular Technicians, Laboratory Technicians and other licensed healthcare positions.
The Technology-Driven Growth of Medical Assisting & Established Healthcare Careers
As one article on the topic noted, “medical assisting is a growing field that relies on technology in order to function.” These same advances in technology allow physicians to “examine” patients via Skype and patients at home to send EKG reports to their doctors’ offices. In other words, technology allows for individuals with less training to safely perform jobs that required education and licensure in the past and allows for those healthcare workers in high demand—such as doctors, nurse practitioners and RNs—to supervise a larger number of patients than they’d be capable of doing the old-fashioned way.
Clinical Technologies Utilized in the Education & Work of a Medical Assistant
- Combination portable machinery to take patient’s vitals signs (temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiration and oxygen in the blood);
- Pulse oximeters;
- Ear thermometer;
- EKG machines;
- Hematology Analyzers (depending upon state law);
- Needles and laboratory vacuum tubes for phlebotomy;
- Personal computers for study/education and documentation and monitoring after graduation.
Clerical Technologies Utilized in the Education & Work of a Medical Assistant
- Office computing system;
- Office telephone systems;
- Transcription machines;
- Fax machines;
- Appointment Software;
- Insurance Billing Software;
- Accounting Software.
As technology continues to advance, all healthcare workers will gain greater responsibilities with the assumption that the technology will protect against injury secondary to errors. As in all times of great and rapid change, the pendulum toward growth in the healthcare industry will continue to grow in direct response to demand.