Understanding the Medical Assistant Scope of Practice

July 28, 2020 12:01 PM

Understanding the Medical Assistant Scope of Practice

Every member of a healthcare team plays distinct yet complementary roles. Surgeons are different from primary care physicians who are different from physician assistants or nurse practitioners who are different from nurses, and so on. Each team member serves a different purpose. However, they all work together to care for their patients. These differences are described within each profession’s scope of practice, which provides guidelines for what functions each group can and cannot perform.


From a practice management perspective, each team member must operate within their allowed scope of practice. If a provider strays away from what’s allowed, it can expose patients to unnecessary harm and open clinics to potential liability. While the scope of practice is well-understood for many roles, it may be less clear for people in supporting positions. This is particularly true for medical assistants (MAs).

Best Practices for Using MAs

Earlier this year, The Doctors Company, a leading medical malpractice insurance provider, published an article addressing the role of medical assistants in an office practice. While the MA scope of practice guidelines are very different from state-to-state, the article offered a few best practices all clinics should use. 

Be Aware of Scope of Practice Regulations

Each state takes a different approach to regulating the MA scope of practice. Some states provide very specific lists of approved activities (which may include clinical functions), while others offer no guidelines whatsoever. Regardless of what state you’re practicing in, it’s the clinic’s responsibility to understand the allowed scope of practice and create policies and procedures that ensure employed MAs work within approved constraints.

Your MAs Should Conduct Position-Appropriate Tasks

The article also reminds clinics that MAs are not licensed staff. Therefore they should not perform independent assessment through telephone triage and should take great care when communicating clinical information with patients. The Doctor’s Company also recommends avoiding referring to MAs as “nurses” because that title implies licensure. 

Training, Oversight, and Certification

To help your MAs work within their appropriate scope of practice, The Doctors Company also recommends creating delineated responsibilities through written job descriptions, in-depth training, and ongoing oversight. In addition, The Doctors Company suggests MAs pursue certification through organizations like the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), which creates standards for MAs throughout the country. 


By treating these professionals as valued members of your team, who operate within a clearly defined role, your MAs can make significant contributions to your clinic’s efficiency and culture.

MA Scope of Practice in Oregon

Here in Oregon, MAs are classified by the Oregon Medical Board as “unlicensed healthcare personnel.” As such, it’s up to the licensed physician to carefully supervise their unlicensed staff. This includes:


  • Ensuring that the MA is qualified to perform delegated services.
  • Verifying the correct medication and dosage before an MA administers medicine.
  • Being physically present in the facility when MAs are working.


Additionally, MAs may not provide independent medical judgment, they must maintain patient confidentiality, and they must be clearly identified as medical assistants when performing work functions. 

Med-X Staffing Services Can Help You Use MAs More Successfully

While MAs can help clinics of every size, not every clinic has the time or resources to determine how these professionals integrate into their workflow. That’s where Med-X Staffing Services comes in. Paula Purdy CMA (AAMA), our director of clinic services, is a certified medical assistant and has worked for years developing MA training standards in cooperation with local schools and professional organizations. She is currently the president-elect and chair of the public affairs liaison for the Oregon Society of Medical Assistants. Paula also served as past national president of the AAMA. 


Not only can Paula help you understand how MAs can fit into your practice, but she will also help you find and hire qualified MAs through her vast professional hiring network at Med-X Staffing Services. If you’d like to learn more about how MAs can help your practice thrive, contact Paula and the Med-X team today.


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