While the titles of medical administrative assistant and medical assistant are very similar, they are two distinctly different roles within the healthcare industry. Each has its own responsibilities, training, rate of pay, and job outlook. Understanding these differences is important for anyone considering one of these professions as a career.
Duties of Medical Administrative Assistants vs. Medical Assistants
In general, both a medical administrative assistant and a medical assistant help a medical office run smoothly. How they achieve this goal is different for each position, with just a little bit of overlap.
Roles and Responsibilities of Medical Administrative Assistants
A medical administrative assistant – also sometimes referred to as a medical administrative specialist or, simply, an administrative assistant – performs many functions that fall under the umbrella of administrative tasks. Some of the duties someone in this healthcare role may be assigned include:
- Answering the phone
- Scheduling appointments
- Managing patients’ medical records
- Processing insurance claims
- Transcribing dictation
- Preparing reports for the healthcare provider or other regulatory agencies
To perform these duties, medical administrative assistants must be familiar with medical terminology, medical coding, insurance billing procedures, and more. Since many of these responsibilities require interacting with patients and healthcare providers, medical administrative assistants also benefit from having good interpersonal communication skills. This helps keep office communication effective and respectful. For patients specifically, it can also help them feel cared for and understood.
Medical administrative assistants can be found in doctor’s offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and long-term care facilities. Each of these healthcare providers offers direct services to patients, making the administrative assistant role valuable to giving that patient a positive experience during what, for many, can be a scary or uncertain time. Having a caring and compassionate person to help them schedule their next appointment or handle their insurance claim can make all the difference, underscoring the importance of this role.
Roles and Responsibilities of Medical Assistants
Medical assistants support healthcare providers by aiding in hands-on patient care services. The responsibilities and duties of someone in a medical assistant position can include:
- Collecting and recording a patient’s vital signs (blood pressure, temp, etc.)
- Collecting blood samples to be forwarded to a lab
- Assisting the healthcare provider with the patient exam
- Recording and updating the patient’s medical history and private health information
Many of these functions involve working within an electronic health record (EHR) system. An EHR is the patient’s medical records in digital form. It contains their identifying information – their full name, address, phone number, email, and other contact information – as well as their full medical history. This history includes all previous medical diagnoses, any medical tests they’ve had run, and their treatment regimens.
Some of the functions performed by medical assistants require learning how to physically collect certain health information. This includes knowing how to properly take a patient’s blood pressure reading, for instance, and knowing the steps for collecting a blood sample from the patient so it can be sent to the lab and processed accordingly.
Medical assistants can be found in a variety of healthcare settings ranging from physician’s offices and hospitals to chiropractic offices and outpatient care centers. Since medical assistants obtain and record a patient’s private health information, the ability to keep that information confidential is important. Medical assistants also benefit from having good communication skills and being detailed, enabling them to collect and record enough patient information to create a comprehensive health record.
Similarities and Differences Between These Two Healthcare Roles
There are a few similarities between a medical administrative assistant and a medical assistant. One is that they both work directly with patients in some manner. Having compassion and empathy in both positions can help provide the patient with a more positive healthcare experience. Another similarity is that each role has responsibilities related to the collection and recording of a patient’s private health information. This requires being discreet with that information, as well as recording it accurately to ensure that the patient’s health records are correct and complete.
There are also several differences between these two healthcare roles. One difference between a medical assistant and a medical administrative assistant is the way in which they care for the patients.
A medical administrative assistant provides patient care by assisting with appointment scheduling, submitting insurance claims accurately so the provider pays its required amount, and answering patient questions when they call the medical office. A medical assistant cares for patients by collecting and recording their vital information, collecting blood samples when needed, and assisting the practitioner with the patient’s exam.
Since many of the duties performed by a medical assistant involve providing more direct patient care, this care is often provided within the examination or treatment rooms. Alternatively, since many of the duties performed by a medical administrative assistant are more indirect, they generally occur outside of the treatment rooms, within the office area.
There are also differences in who each professional might communicate with the most. Medical assistants may have more interaction with the healthcare providers, such as when relaying vital signs or sharing information the patient provided during intake. Medical administrative assistants may have more interaction with other medical staff, such as an office manager or another clinical medical assistant.
Medical Administrative Specialist Training vs. Medical Assistant Training
Another comparison to consider regarding medical administrative specialist vs. medical assistant is the training required to enter each of these positions.
Medical Administrative Assistant Education and Training
Entry-level administrative assistant roles can sometimes be obtained with only a high school diploma. However, those working in the healthcare field also benefit from undergoing specialized training, such as learning basic medical terminology. This helps increase the professional’s understanding of what a patient may be asking during a phone call, for instance, potentially also increasing their ability to update a patient’s medical records more accurately based on the exact information provided.
Additionally, some employers prefer that administrative assistant job candidates have more advanced education or training within the healthcare field. Having a diploma or degree signifies that the employee (or potential employee) has the skill sets necessary to perform the functions generally assigned to this role. A higher level of education may also be required to advance to a more senior role, such as office manager.
What types of courses are included in a medical administrative assistant program? At Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA), our students learn about medical terminology, administrative assisting procedures, healthcare communication, medical transcription and coding, and more. Our medical administrative assistant career training also prepares students to sit for the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant exam. If you meet the requirements to take the exam and pass it, you can apply for roles that are looking for a Certified Medical Administrative Assistant.
Medical Assistant Education and Training
Individuals interested in working as a medical assistant typically have some level of postsecondary education within this field. Even if this is not a requirement, more advanced training may be preferred by some employers.
There are a variety of educational and training options for those wanting to enter a medical assistant role. They include earning a diploma or a degree. A diploma program is generally shorter (around a year or less) while a degree program is longer (closer to two years, if not more) but also more comprehensive.
Whichever route you pursue, there are certain skills that you are likely to learn in a medical assistant program. For example, students enrolled in UMA’s Medical Assistant diploma or degree programs will learn about allied health principles, pharmacology, clinical procedures, phlebotomy, and minor medical office surgeries.
Compensation Comparison for Medical Administrative Assistants and Medical Assistants
Who makes more money: medical assistant or medical administrative assistant? According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the earnings for these two roles are close, but a medical administrative assistant might earn slightly more.
Per the BLS the median annual wage in May 2020 for a medical administrative assistant was $37,350 per year1 while the median annual wage for medical assistants is $35,850 per year.2 Actual pay can vary based on a number of factors. Among them are your level of education and experience, whether you hold any advanced certifications, and the geographical area in which you work.
Pay can also vary based on the type of healthcare facility in which you work. For example, medical assistants working in outpatient care centers tend to earn the most according to the BLS, followed by those providing services in hospitals, physician’s offices, and within chiropractic practices.2
Job and Field Outlook for Medical Administrative Assistants and Medical Assistants
Is a medical assistant and medical office assistant the same when it comes to job outlook? The BLS reports that medical assistant roles are expected to increase 18% between 2020 and 2030.3 This rate is much faster than average and is anticipated to create around 132,600 new positions during this time frame.
One reason for this projected increase is due to an aging population, which would increase the demand for medical services. Another is an increase in healthcare facilities, providing more workplace setting options for individuals interested in working in this type of position.
Although the BLS expects administrative assistant roles, in general, to decline 7% between 2020 and 2030, medical secretary positions are anticipated to increase 11%.4 Again, this is due, in part, to an aging population that will likely require more medical services in the years ahead. As a result, medical offices may rely more on administrative assistants to help the practice run more smoothly, such as by performing tasks associated with insurance claim reimbursement.
Whether you want to work as a medical assistant or medical administrative assistant, the job outlook is promising. Both are expected to increase over the next decade, opening several opportunities to work in the position that you would likely enjoy most.
Taking the Next Steps
If you’re interested in pursuing an entry-level medical administrative assistant role, UMA offers two options: an online Medical Administrative Assistant diploma program which can be completed in 11 months5 and a Health Sciences – Medical Administrative Assistant associate degree program which can be completed in 18 months.5
In both of these programs, you will learn about medical terminology, medical transcription, medical billing, medical coding, and more. When you earn your associate degree, you also learn more about working with computers, professional communication, and patient relations.
Maybe the role of medical assistant is more appealing to you. UMA offers two options here as well. The first is a Medical Assistant diploma program, which can provide the education and skill set needed to pursue work in this field in 15 months.5 The second is a Medical Assistant associate degree program, which is a 21-month program.5
Both include courses designed to increase your knowledge in and understanding of anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, medical assistant office procedures, pharmacology, lab procedures, and communications in medical assisting. The associate degree program also includes general education courses and a variety of electives, such as Accounting for Managers, Patient Relations, Ecology, Psychology, and Diversity in the Workplace.
If you’re ready to take the next steps, UMA is here to take those steps with you. Contact us today to discuss your options, or to enroll!
1Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm#tab-5
2Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-5
3Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Medical Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-6
4Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm#tab-6
5Completion time will vary depending on individual student.