Medical office assistants (MOAs) are trained to work in a wide variety of health care facilities, including doctor's offices, walk-in clinics, dental offices, hospitals, nursing homes—and with complementary heath care providers, like chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists.
While MOAs are primarily responsible for administrative tasks—like appointment scheduling, inventory control, maintaining patient records, and coordinating billing—they may also perform and assist with important clinical procedures.
Wondering exactly which procedures you may be asked to assist with, or carry out alone, as a MOA? This post breaks down the four most common clinical tasks you'll focus on in training, and how each one contributes to patient health.
1. Measuring Vital Signs
Medical office assistants measure vital signs to collect data on patients' most basic body functions. These functions are referred to as "vital", because each one must be present for life to continue.
The vital sign check is a critical first step in patient evaluation, as abnormal vital sign function could indicate the need for emergency treatment. The vital signs assessment takes place before the patient sees the doctor, and includes four tests:
Body Temperature - Often using a thermometer placed in the ear, MOAs check for abnormalities in patient body temperature (such as an elevated temperature due to fever, or a drop in temperature due to hypothermia)
Pulse Rate - MOAs place their first and second finger tips on the patient's neck, inner elbow, or wrist to locate the pulse, and calculate beats per minute (they will also evaluate the strength and regularity of the pulse)
Respiration Rate - Respiration rates may change with illness, so MOAs assess this vital sign by counting how many times the patient's chest rises during a 60 second period (normal rates are between 12 and 16 breaths per minute)
Blood Pressure - Medical office assistants use a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope to measure the patient's systolic and diastolic blood pressure (used to screen for conditions such as hypertension/high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke)
Medical office assistant training prepares students to carry out each of these vital signs tests, how to record the results, and which emergency warning signs to watch out for.
2. Measuring Height and Weight
Along with checking vital signs, measuring height and weight is another key step in the patient assessment process.
Medical office assistants take these measurements in order to determine an ideal weight for each patient, which is then used as a baseline for identifying any unusual weight gain or weight loss (which may signal a serious underlying condition.)
Weight is also used to determine medication dosages, and for purposes of nutritional screening.
MOAs measure height and weight using a standing scale, a wheelchair-accessible scale, or a patient lift (or "sling" type scale) for patients who cannot sit or stand.
3. Evaluating Pain
During the initial assessment, MOAs may ask patients to describe any pain or discomfort they have been experiencing. They will ask the patient to identify the site of the pain, and rate its intensity on a scale of one to 10. The medical office assistant carefully records this information for the physician to review, and follow-up with the patient.
4. Assisting with minor surgery
A range of minor surgeries may be performed at a medical office. These procedures require no anesthesia, or just a local anesthetic, such as an injection or cream applied directly to the affected area.
Examples of minor medical office surgery include collecting a biopsy specimen, removing an ingrown nail, repairing a laceration, or irrigating and cleaning up a wound.
What part do medical office assistants play in these clinical procedures? This depends on the work environment and the preferences of the physician; however, it is common for medical office assistants to provide support before, during, and after minor surgery. Their duties may include:
- collecting signed consent forms
- explaining procedures and risk factors to patients
- preparing patients for the surgical procedure (instructing them to remove clothing if needed, helping them into the proper position on the treatment table, shaving the skin site if needed, draping the patient with a sheet as directed, etc.)
- setting up a sterile instruments tray
- handing sterile instruments and supplies to the physician during the procedure
After the procedure, the MOA may also walk the patient through after-care procedures. Overall, they play a key role in putting the patient at ease, before, during and after the procedure.
Even minor surgery can be difficult for patients, particularly young children. Medical office assistants help make the experience less stressful.
Learn more about becoming a medical office assistant
Have questions about the role and responsibilities of medical office assistants? Want to learn more about training and careers?
Explore the Medical Office Assistant program, available at Herzing College Winnipeg. Training takes just 9 months to complete and includes a 4-week internship.
Click to visit the program page and request free information. You can also chat live with an Admissions Advisor, and book a personal advising appointment. We're here to help!