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The Changing Role Of Medical Assistants During The COVID-19 Pandemic

female medical assistant pouring pills into her hand to give to senior man

As of October 2021, there have been more than 44 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Many of those diagnosed have sought medical attention, either through their primary care physician, urgent care, or the emergency room. More than 194,000 of those infected have required hospitalization. This history-making pandemic has caused a monumental strain on the American healthcare system, forcing healthcare workers to tackle new challenges and expand their roles to respond to evolving needs in their communities.

For medical assistants, this often means taking on new tasks and learning how to modify their roles to support physicians and improve staff and patient safety. Whether you’re enrolled in the medical assistant program at Prism Career Institute or currently working as an MA, here’s what you need to know about being a medical assistant in the age of COVID-19.

What Does A Medical Assistant Do?

To understand how the role of medical assistants has changed due to the pandemic, it’s important to the role they play overall. Before the pandemic, medical assistants had a clearly defined role that included many of the administrative tasks that help doctors, hospitals, clinics, urgent care facilities, and other healthcare organizations run smoothly. Duties might include patient-facing tasks, such as taking vitals and patient histories, scheduling patient appointments, preparing blood samples for lab tests, and updating patient records.

From Hands-On Care To Telemedicine

One of the biggest changes affecting all industries due to the pandemic is the number of people working from home instead of going into the office. As companies try to limit exposure and viral transmission by encouraging remote work, healthcare facilities are doing the same by shifting patients to telehealth appointments whenever possible.

Medical assistants might help in telehealth situations by meeting with patients before they speak with the doctor. The MA might take the patient’s medical history, ask about any changes since the last visit, and walk the patient through a COVID-19 exposure questionnaire. In some cases, the MA may need to get creative, asking patients questions designed to help gauge wellness and identify potential issues without the benefit of an actual physical exam.

Sanitization And Social Distancing

Even in areas where in-person appointments have once again become the norm, medical assistants may be tasked with helping patients maintain social distancing. MAs might be asked to have patients wait in their cars instead of the waiting room and screen or triage patients before they even walk into the facility.

Inside healthcare facilities, sterilization is more important than ever. Medical assistants may be asked to clean high-touch surfaces in between patients and clean other areas in accordance with CDC recommendations. Tasks might include:

  • Wiping down the pens and clipboards patients use to complete paperwork
  • Cleaning payment machines
  • Wiping down other high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, and touchscreen devices
  • Spraying down waiting room chairs and side tables regularly throughout the day and arranging chairs to ensure social distancing
  • Placing sanitizer stations and ensuring bottles are refilled as needed
  • Ensuring patients have access to extra personal protective equipment, including masks

Performing Nasopharyngeal Swabs

One of the biggest changes for medical assistants is the ability to help test patients for COVID-19. In April 2020, The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) announced a ruling change approved by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that allows properly trained medical assistants to do the nasal swab used in COVID-19 testing. This seemingly small change could be helpful for healthcare facilities struggling with staffing. With MAs available to administer testing, there’s less of a burden on other healthcare workers, such as RNs and physicians, who can then prioritize other areas of patient care.

Learn More About the Medical Assistant Program With Prism Career Institute

Medical assistants have always been an important part of the healthcare system. Now, MAs are even more integral to patient care, helping patients get the care they need and adapting with impressive speed as COVID-19 mandates continue to evolve.

To learn more about Prism Career Institute’s Medical Assistant program in Cherry Hill or Egg Harbor, NJ, call (888) 966-8146 to speak with an admissions representative.