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Office assistants take on a lot of responsibility in their jobs. From managing correspondence to booking appointments and keeping track of the schedules of others they work with, there is seldom a dull day in this kind of busy environment. That being said, there is a great deal of difference between what an office assistant does and what a medical office assistant (also known as an MOA) does from day to day. Both roles are ideal for organized individuals who work well under pressure and there are commonalities like the tasks mentioned above, but there are also large differences in what the jobs actually entail.
Obviously, someone who works as a medical assistant works in a medical office. This could include a wide range of environments like a doctor’s office, clinic (including naturopathic, chiropractic, physiotherapy, psychologist and other less traditional clinic settings), hospital, nursing home, dentist’s office, medical lab, medical billing office or community health centre to name just a few of the medical office assistant job settings.
The technical nature of the medical field is one of the biggest differentiators between a medical office assistant job description and that of an office assistant. While, as mentioned, some of the basics are common to both jobs: business communication, transcription, scheduling and billing, the differences are vast and create a great deal of variance between someone who can handle the details of office work and someone who can become a true team player in a medical office environment.
A few differentiators in medical office administration from an office assistant job:
– In almost all cases, medical offices are looking for someone who has taken an MOA course or program that helps them to understand the specifics around the role
– Medical office assistants need to understand medical terminology including spelling, pronunciation and medical word structures. This includes being able to incorporate these terms into keyboarding skills suitable for forms and reports
– Keyboarding skills naturally flow into an ability to provide transcription services to create various documents and reports
– Working in a medical office also requires a basic understanding of body systems, organs, bodily functions, anatomy and an understanding of common pathologies
– Because many services provided in the medical field fall under various insurance plans, an understanding of medical billing forms and procedures is necessary. It’s also important for a MOA to have an understanding of communication between pharmacists and physicians in regards to medications
The majority of MOA courses and programs will ensure students have this kind of knowledge presented to them in the education setting. Great programs will include a practicum for students to apply what they have learned in the real world to take the in-school learning that step further and position themselves better for their future job.
Now that you understand the differences between a medical office assistant and an office assistant, it’s time to consider what the job of an MOA actually includes.
– Greeting patients – this may be on the phone or in person at an office. It requires professionalism and yet a friendly manner and may also include assisting patients with forms (like updated insurance information), updating patient records and/or asking questions or helping with a questionnaire to assist with assessments
– Scheduling appointments – this may be on the phone, by email or in person. MOAs not only book existing patients, but also obtain necessary information to be able to help new patients
– Planning for appointments – many MOAs pull patient records prior to the patient visit, confirm scheduled appointment times and assist with referrals to specialists for things like scans, blood tests and other types of testing, analysis or treatment
– Serving as a guide – before or after getting the patient to their exam room, MOAs may need to take a patient’s height, weight and blood pressure prior to their appointment. MOAs also set up the exam room with the proper instruments
– Communication by phone to a variety of people (patients, suppliers, insurance companies), processing and preparing medical files and managing other administrative tasks are a day-to-day part of the job
– Additionally, MOAs manage office and medical supplies and equipment as needed
It’s a multi-facetted job in what is most often a high-paced environment. Patients can often be under stress and need someone who can “cut to the chase” in terms of what is needed, but can do so in a friendly and compassionate, yet professional, manner.
Salaries will range based on experience, duties and location. The online job search website Indeed.com notes that the average salary of a MOA in Vancouver, BC is a little more than $17 an hour with a low of just over $10 and a high of $26.60. That puts the local annual medical office assistant salary at about $33,000 a year. Another website, Neuvoo notes that entry-level MOAs make about $22,000 a year, while those with more experience can make up to $44,000 a year.
Getting there starts with a Medical office assistant diploma, ideally one with a practicum, to be followed by graduation then job search and job placement. A quick scan of local job postings on Indeed reveals that less traditional environments for MOAs (physiotherapy offices, psychology offices, massage therapists) are less likely to require MOA education, while more traditional medical environments tend to have education as a requirement.
For those looking to get into the field and excel, regardless of the medical environment you find most appealing, education will put you ahead of candidates without the same ability of being able to understand medical terminology, anatomy and other specifics. While most medical offices will train the right employee to fit within the environment, knowing the medical basics up front will be an asset both for you as an applicant and for the office when you get started in the position.