By Lynne Jones, Executive Director of the Commission on Family Medicine
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted well-known shortfalls of the U.S. healthcare landscape, as well as helped to validate what can be accomplished when we are at our best. Let’s focus on what we know about how we are at our best as health care providers. We learned during Patient Centered Medical Home model implementation that team-based care and training team members to perform at the “top of their license” generates higher responsiveness to patient needs and improved job satisfaction for ALL care team members.1 A true, value-driven team approach also adds to satisfaction for MAs with fulfilling work and greater respect for (their) role (through): (a) relationships with colleagues, (b) involvement with patients, (c) sense of control, and (d) sense of efficacy.2
The Colorado Association of Family Medicine Residencies embraces a patient-centered, team-based approach to patient care delivery in their training of family physicians. The medical assistant can often make or break a provider’s rapport with patients and efficacy in practice. This is true in most medical specialties, but especially in primary care. “As one of the first points of contact for patients, [medical assistants] often have a deep knowledge of patients’ personal and medical histories. Most are also adept at using the electronic health record (EHR), and with proper training, they can play major roles in preventive care, coaching patients, and population management.”3
What NIMAA does to prepare medical assistants for practice is key to allowing for the role of the provider and the role of the MA to occur with synergy and a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship. Much like family physicians during residency, medical assistants build a skill set that prepares them for a wide range of roles and responsibilities that best address patient needs. These skills are clinical, certainly, and often encompass roles in quality improvement, population health, supervisory duties, care management or navigation, and patient panel management, among others. Medical assistants with a broad scope of training and experience can work side by side with their medical providers in valuable, efficient ways to meet patient needs.
When considering preparation for primary care in a team-based environment, workforce development is a necessary part of the discussion. NIMAA, through partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), aids in enhancing capacity for serving the underserved members of our populations. Currently, 17 Colorado counties report a primary care shortage, primarily in rural areas, but also in historically marginalized urban communities. Recruiting and retaining both providers and allied health professionals like medical assistants is critical to driving positive health outcomes in these, and all, communities. Hiring of medical assistants is on the rise due to these shortages and to healthcare systems seeing the value in this key role on the clinical care team.4 Addressing workforce shortages is essential to overcoming the shortfalls we see during the current pandemic and best meet the needs of communities. Some of the caring, passionate, motivated MAs trained in advanced primary care practices may decide they’d like to advance in their careers and become providers themselves, creating an important workforce pipeline!
- Health Affairs. Care Team Redesign: Transforming medical assistant roles in primary care. (2015 March 12). https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20150312.045475/full/
- Health Care Management Review. Team-based primary care: The medical assistant perspective. (2018, April 6). https://journals.lww.com/hcmrjournal/Abstract/2018/04000/Team_based_primary_care__The_medical_assistant.4.aspx
- Improving Primary Care Together. The Medical Assistant. (2013, Mar-Apr, 20). http://www.improvingprimarycare.org/team/medical-assistant-ma#:~:text=Medical%20assistants%20(MAs)%20are%20essential,information%20and%20tools%20they%20need.&text=As%20one%20of%20the%20first,patients’%20personal%20and%20medical%20histories.
- Nelson, Rosemarie. American Medical Technologists, Physicians Practice. The Impact of a Medical Assistant in the Practice. (2018 February). https://www.americanmedtech.org/Portals/0/PDF/Employers/Physicians%20Practice%20Whitepaper%20Feb%2018.pdf