What are Medical Office Assistants?
Medical office assistants complete various administrative duties in healthcare offices. They may schedule appointments, take insurance information for billing, and even order and stock medical supplies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Other responsibilities may include filing papers, updating medical records, and understanding the business procedures that need to be followed in an office. For more information, see our medical office assistant career page.
Medical Office Assisting Program Information
A broad number of postsecondary institutions, including vocational schools and community colleges offer medical office assisting programs. Some of these programs are campus based while others are completely online. Some even offer a combination of class-based and online learning through a hybrid format. Requirements vary for programs based on the length and scope of the training available, but generally medical office assisting schools train students to be knowledgeable in the administrative skills and tasks that are helpful in keeping a healthcare office running smoothly.
Medical Office Assisting Program Types
The following medical office assisting programs are available to those looking to enter the field:
- Diploma/Certificate: Full-time students may only need several months to complete these programs. Medical office assisting courses typically introduce students to word processing and spreadsheet software, basic medical terminology, billing and insurance practices, and healthcare laws and ethics. Students may find flexible class offerings and coursework available during the day or evening, or even online.
- Associate Degree: The coursework in this program can generally be completed in two years. Like diploma and certificate programs, this program offers a broad base of learning in essential administrative healthcare functions, but tends to feature more general education classes. Students may explore business, computers and writing in greater depth and could be better prepared to complete a bachelor's degree in a related healthcare field if that is an objective. Students in an associate degree program may also need to complete an externship.
Upon completion of one of these medical office assisting programs, students may be ready to take a certification exam offered through an organization such as the National Healthcareer Association or American Medical Technologists. The BLS notes that certification is not required to gain employment, but that employers do favor workers who are certified (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). State regulations are always changing, however, so check with your state's department of health for the latest information.
Medical Office Assisting Course Descriptions
Coursework in medical office assisting schools can be similar, whether the program offered helps lead to a diploma, certificate or associate degree. Students can expect to gain basic administrative healthcare knowledge and learn important communication skills as part of their training. Students may find any of the following courses comprise part of the core curriculum in medical office assisting programs:
- Medical Terminology: Students learn about the basic language of healthcare, including root words and commonly-used prefixes and suffixes. This terminology applies to many of the basic systems of the body but also be functional in doing billing and coding.
- Healthcare Computer Applications: Students learn about the type of computer programs that can be used in a medical office and how to keep track of important information like insurance. They may learn about the processes that are needed for bring a new patient onboard and what needs to be done in the computer to set him or her up for a first appointment.
- Medical Coding and Insurance: Students are introduced to the coding procedures needed to fill out and process insurance claims in an office or healthcare setting. Students may also learn about different types of health insurance and the specific terminology that may applicable to each.
Related Career Options
As medical office assistants gain experience, their goals and interests may change, prompting them to seek other healthcare positions. Related career paths might include pursuing employment as a:
- Health Information Technician: Code patient information for billing and insurance purposes and help organize and track healthcare records. Requires postsecondary credential and oftentimes certification.
- Nurse Assistant: Offer basic patient care in nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities. Requires a postsecondary credential and state certification/licensure.
- Pharmacy Tech: Works under the direction of a pharmacist and help process prescriptions for customers. May require formal postsecondary education and certification.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to learn more about medical office assisting: