New Roles for Medical Assistants in Innovative Primary Care Practices


Susan A. Chapman and Lisel K. Blash

January 31, 2017

This publication, which is part of a special issue for the journal Health Services Research on the evolving US health care workforce, describes innovative roles for medical assistants (MAs) in the rapidly changing health care environment. 

Medical assistants are one of the fastest growing occupations in the US. There are currently more than 591,000 MAs and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 138,900 new MA jobs within the next decade. MAs are racially and ethnically diverse—43 percent are nonwhite, according to the US Census Bureau.

Most training programs for MAs are one year or less and result in a certificate of completion. These workers are relatively easy to hire, offer a low-cost addition to the team, and often come from the community and population they serve. However, MAs are typically limited to escorting patients to an exam room, taking vital signs, noting the chief complaint in the record, and leaving the exam room unless assistance is needed with a procedure.

This research analyzed data from 15 case study sites—health care organizations that are using MAs in new roles. These roles include health coaching, translation, patient navigation, care coordination, medical scribe, panel management, greeting, scheduling, phlebotomy, floor coordination and more.

The paper highlights the notion that medical assistants can be used to take on expanded or new roles within teams to ease the burden of primary care shortages in the US. New MA roles are part of a larger attempt to reform workflow and relieve primary care providers. Spread, however, has been limited because of lack of leadership, resistance to change, costs and the lack of reimbursement for non-billable services.

Full publication