Implementation of the Affordable Care Act Driving Need for Medical Office Specialists

According to the Congressional Research Service, the net result of the Affordable Care Act will be at least an additional 20 million Americans gaining access to the healthcare system. Although some of these people will be signing up for federally run health insurance programs, the large majority will be new customers signing up for private health insurance.

That means that the demand for medical office specialists, also known as administrative medical assistants or records clerks, is going to increase dramatically over the next few years as the ACAS is implemented. There are more than 200,000 people employed as medical office specialists in the U.S. today, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a strong 31 percent growth rate for assistants from 2010 to 2020.

The person that greets you when you walk in the door of a doctor’s office or clinic is very likely a medical office specialist. She is responsible for greeting patients, confirming appointment details, taking notes about symptoms and updating patient records and insurance databases. Administrative medical specialists also typically take co-pays from patients, verify insurance and file insurance claims.

Medical office specialist training programs can be found at most community colleges and vocational schools. Most training programs last six to 12 months and graduates receive a certificate. Some programs that combine administrative and clinical medical assistant training take two years and lead to an associate degree.

These administrative specialists are trained in basic business practices and office procedures, and receive extensive training in creating and maintaining electronic health records (EHR). Knowledge of EHR systems is going to be increasingly important in the next few years, as virtually all health records will be stored in electronic form in the near future.

Employers generally prefer to hire certified medical administrative assistants. In order to become certified you must graduate from an accredited training program and/or pass an exam. The most well-known certifications for medical office specialists is the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) program offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

Medical office specialists are not required to be licensed. Assistants who perform both clinical and administrative duties have to be licensed in a few states and municipalities.

Their salaries are practically the same as clinical assistants on average. According to the BLS, medical assistants as a whole earned a median salary of $29,370 in 2012, and the top 10% earned more than $41,570. Medical admin assistant positions often includebenefits such as paid vacation and paying some or all of your health insurance premiums.

The huge influx of new patients into the U.S. healthcare system over the next few years practically guarantees that medical office specialists will be in demand in doctor’s offices, clinics, nursing homes and hospitals all across the country. They also have opportunities for career advancement. Given enough experience, you can move up to senior administrative assistant, and maybe even become an office manager if you go back to school and earn an associate degree in business administration.

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