COVID-19 is on the rise again in many parts of the country. Here in Oregon, we’ve yet to experience a critical outbreak. However, states like California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia are currently recording thousands of new daily cases. These outbreaks are putting heavy pressure on those state’s healthcare systems as doctors, nurses, and support staff treat a surge of sick patients. Under these unprecedented circumstances, every member of the medical care team must be working at their highest level and be willing to take on new responsibilities as we weather these new challenges.
In simpler times, the medical assistant’s role was clear. A medical assistant might handle a variety of administrative tasks like greeting patients, answering phones, and maintaining patient medical records during a typical day. In some states where medical assistants are allowed to perform unsupervised clinical tasks, their regular duties might also include blood draws, laboratory tests, or other functions that help keep the flow of patients moving smoothly. During COVID-19, however, medical assistants are being asked to do more than ever.
A recent bulletin from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) recently demonstrated one aspect of these new changes. On April 6th, 2020, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a ruling that states that appropriately trained medical assistants can now perform nasopharyngeal swabs to test for COVID-19. This simple change provides clinic managers with greater flexibility in deploying their staff to meet this public health crisis. But the changes don’t stop there.
Another recent CMS change states that medical assistants are now allowed to interact with patients using telehealth modalities like real-time telephone or live audio-video, patient portals, and remote patient monitoring. This shift is critical, as many providers are turning to telehealth solutions to improve patient access and limit the spread of COVID-19. While medical assistants aren’t positioned to make independent assessments, under these new rules, they can help patients navigate and troubleshoot telehealth platforms and help manage patient throughput.
One critical component in controlling the spread of COVID-19 is for patients with suspected infections to self-isolate. That means they must call a provider when suspected symptoms develop before coming to the clinic in person. Medical assistants can play an essential role in this screening process by answering phones, asking key COVID-19 screening questions, and then routing suspected COVID-19 infections for appropriate follow-up care.
Of course, not every patient will heed this call-first message. That’s why it’s also essential to place clinic staff at every entrance to screen in-person visitors before they access the facility. Depending on the situation, this could include temperature checks and ensuring all patients wear a facial covering. As the first line of defense, medical assistants could play an essential role in protecting clinic staff and other patients.
A surge of sick patients will likely place heavy demands on providers and other licensed care team members. As a result, medical assistants may need to pick up additional tasks that nurses and physicians would typically perform. This could include many first-stage procedures, such as recording the patients’ weight and taking their vitals when they enter the exam room. During the pandemic, medical assistants will need to be flexible team members who are willing to jump in, so long it aligns with their acceptable scope of practice.
It’s clear that a well-trained and credentialed medical assistant can be flexible and valuable members of a care team during these challenging times. Med-X Staffing Services has deep insight into the role of medical assistants, thanks to Paula Purdy, our director of clinic service, who is heavily involved in the local and national medical assistant community. If you’d like to learn more about these skilled professionals who can support your clinic operations, contact us today. By working together, we’ll put the COVID-19 pandemic in our rearview mirror and emerge stronger on the other side.