Voice of the Professional: The Effect of COVID-19 and the Importance of Medical Assistants in the Field

Julie Morris, Author and Health-Care Professional

The American Association of Medical Assistants holds two events each October: Medical Assistants Recognition Week (October 19-23 2020) and Medical Assistants Recognition Day (20 October 2020). This year’s honoring these health care professionals is no exception. However, this year, these same providers had to deal with a new challenge: the novel Coronavirus in their professional and personal lives.
Definition of the Medical Assistant Role
It’s likely that you have encountered a Medical Assistant in a medical office. From the front desk to the end, the Medical Assistant interacts directly with patients. They take accurate vital signs, review patient histories, assist the provider, and much more. Before they can check your blood pressure or add your medical history to your electronic health record they must be educated about the role. A certificate or associate’s degree from an accredited school is required to become a Medical Assistant. Most practices also require certification from an approved professional accrediting organization.
Medical assistants in sub-specialty practices
When you consider the impact of SARS-2 on a clinic’s day-to-day operations, it becomes apparent that Medical Assistants are frontline providers. This central thought was brought to focus by a conversation with two specialists and their MAs in their offices. Without their Medical Assistants, providers could not care for patients.
I spoke to an orthopedic surgeon who was positive, negative, then positive for COVID-19 in 72 hours. Although he did not have any symptoms, he was still required to be quarantined for 14 days. This was only one aspect of the impact COVID-19 had on him. Unfortunately, his mother passed away during his quarantine so he was not able to be there for her. His practice’s financial aspects have also been greatly affected by the virus. While clinic traffic is stable, elective orthopedic surgery has fallen 30%. He addressed the role of the Medical assistant in the practice and stated that he couldn’t run the clinical practice or the telemedicine component of patient care without the Medical Assistants. They are vital because they know our preferences and the most common procedures, and keep the clinic running smoothly.
The Time of COVID-19: Primary concerns
This practice’s Medical Assistants credit their strict adherence to protocol for keeping patients safe and managing their anxiety. Both MAs have had relatives and friends infected with the virus, some of whom have died. This practice is associated to a large hospital that was proactive in providing PPE as well as establishing policies to protect patients and Medical Assistants. The problem is when patients who don’t believe COVID-19 are real show up at the practice with a fever. These patients should be turned away.
A Harvard-trained urogynecologist, and reconstructive surgeon, indicated that sub-specialties are not as exposed to COVID-19 than primary care practices. Her practice was unable to provide the same level of care for patients without a stable, competent staff. She stated that MAs are the foundation of the practice. The quality of care they provide is crucial for the health and well-being of our patients. We rely on accurate and complete reporting of patient histories. The interaction between patient and medical assistant is crucial. I don’t know how I would have done without our medical assistant staff.” Their practice has reduced the number of patients that are seen each day, allowing for more time to clean and sanitize exam areas. She believes that COVID-19 has a smaller impact on providers than it does on Medical Assistants.
Medical assistants at home
As Medical Assistants are still predominantly women and primary caregivers at their homes, they face more stressors in caring for their family members and managing their education. Reconstructive practice Medical Assistants agree. The top concern of the Medical Assistants in these practices was their families’ health. They are concerned about how they interact with patients, how they follow practice protocol, and how they protect their families.
One woman spoke of taking off work clothes and showering right away upon returning home. Another talked about leaving a 13-year old home alone with no school and being grateful for a steady job. Another spoke of her parents losing their business, and other financial difficulties in this period of COVID-19. Both spoke out in favor of more education for the public.