The Inside Scoop From Your Medical Assistant on What You Are Doing Right and What You Need to Do Better

Jennifer Frank, MD


May 31, 2022

I read with great interest a recent article published in the Journal of Family Practice in which researchers asked medical assistants (MAs) to identify what works and what doesn't in terms of clinic efficiency. As a clinic-based physician who frequently experiences inefficiencies that prolong my workday and eat into my lunch hour, I was eager to learn what MAs (who have a unique vantage point to clinic workflow) see as opportunities.

Before I get to the key learnings from the survey, I found it alarming but not surprising that about half of the MAs found their job to be very stressful and only half believed that their clinic was adequately staffed. During a national MA shortage (as evidenced by the latter statistic), if we do not intervene quickly to reduce stress on our MAs without (and here's the important part) redistributing the stress to nurses and other team members, our crisis will only worsen.

On to the good stuff. I'll start with the positive. These are things physicians can do to directly and indirectly support MAs in improving clinic efficiency.

  1. Have preclinic huddles with your MAs and clinical team regularly to review the clinic schedule in advance, identify patient care needs, and review appointments for possible opportunities to double book or for times when the team will be at risk of running behind.

  2. Advocate to keep teams consistent. MAs find that working with the same physician improves flow. I'm going to go out on a limb and state that most physicians enjoy working with the same MA too.

  3. Support a standard process for previsit planning and check-in. Help to develop an MA workflow that gets the patient ready for your visit as effectively as possible and work to make this process followed.

Okay, time for us to look in the mirror and identify ways we could improve. I find this part particularly helpful because I think there can be, and often is, a power differential that prevents MAs from providing helpful and necessary feedback to the physicians with whom they work. These are the physician behaviors that can impair efficient clinic workflow.

  1. Not signing orders in a timely fashion. This can make it impossible for the MA to complete a necessary task (like sending bloodwork to the lab) and cause interruptions in their day, which inevitably causes interruptions in yours.

  2. Not doing paperwork in a timely fashion. While paperwork is probably every physician's least favorite to-do, continuing to allow it to stack up results in phone calls to our teams and unhappy patients.

  3. I am totally guilty of this one, but I'm resolved to change my ways. It creates inefficiency when we leave the room and ask for an EKG but have not gotten the patient a gown and asked them to change.

  4. Taking out your bad day or impatience on your MA. We all have frustrating and difficult days. We need to be careful that our attitude does not adversely impact our teams.

I have been blessed with a number of truly amazing MAs and LPNs who have supported me as a partner in managing our clinic schedule. Our days can be challenging and difficult, usually in spite of our MA's best efforts. If there are easy ways for us, as physicians, to ease their workflow for the benefit of the team and the patients, then we will make it better for ourselves, our Mas, and our patients to adopt a couple of changes.

Have you asked your MA or LPN what you can do to improve the workflow? What have you learned?

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About Dr Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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