12 Key Figures Behind a Practice Clinic
Nowadays, going to the doctor is more complicated: You check in with one person, have your blood pressure taken by another; then your blood is drawn by a third person all before you even get to the doctor, who might actually be a nurse practitioner. Figuring out who’s at the doctor’s office can be daunting, so we’ve provided some key figures at family practice clinics.
1. Registration associate
This is the person behind the front desk, and the voice behind the phone. Registration associates, commonly known as receptionists, check patients in and out, and collect their copay and insurance information. Registration associates usually lack medical training themselves, so they likely won’t have answers to the variety of questions they must field.
2. Lab technician
This is the person who draws your blood, takes your X-rays or examines other lab specimens like urine samples. They are not necessarily employed by the medical office but are contracted out by various labs. They hand off information to the next person down the line – usually a nurse or a physician assistant.
3. Medical assistant
Not to be confused with physician assistants, medical assistants are not required to have medical or technical training. They meet and greet patients, and are usually their first line of entry to the whole checkup experience. They set the tone. The MA takes vital signs and a medical history. They might tell patients about the flu vaccine without actually administering it. They also make follow-up calls to patients to ensure they go to referral appointments.
4. Physician assistant
It takes three years to become a PA, and the training mirrors medical school. Once certified, PAs can do many of the same things that primary care doctors can do – routine physicals, Pap smears, and diagnose and adjust medications. They perform these tasks under a doctor’s supervision.
The nurse will know whether a patient has to be seen that day or can wait three days. A nurse triage is critical to the office. There are various types of nurses: registered nurses and nurse practitioners are the most common, but there are also specialists such as certified registered nurse anesthetists, who administer a patient’s anesthesia before surgery. Nurses are still largely the go-to people to whom you tell how you’re really feeling.
6. Medical director
This is a physician who also oversees the clinic’s other physicians. This doctor has medical oversight but recognizes that other people may be better at actually carrying out the work of caring for patients. Team-based health care also means closer partnerships between patients and providers, so increasingly empowered patients are stepping up to the plate and taking charge of their own care.
7. Medical scribe
Not all clinics have medical scribes, but scribes are a great asset when clinics do have them. Scribes sit in on the patient’s appointment with the doctor to take notes and enter data for insurance claims into the computer via electronic medical records.
8. Patient educator
Also known as patient navigators, patient educators help orientate patients – often those who have been diagnosed with a serious condition and will need ongoing care. As with a scribe, it’s a little bit of a luxury for a clinic to have one. Because of that, patient educators may be more prominent at specialty clinics like ones focused on oncology. Or they may be disease-specific, like a diabetes patient educator charged with overseeing a newly diagnosed patient’s lifestyle and dietary changes.
9. Social worker/case manager
While millennial patients tend to be in and out of the doctor’s office, a small subset of typically older patients are always at the doctor or in the hospital. These patients benefit from a social worker or case manager checking in on them – to see if they are taking their medications or having any problems.
10. Practice manager
As the clinic’s business manager, practice managers supervise staff, oversee patient satisfaction surveys and ensure that patients’ billing is done correctly.
Having someone with a Pharm D – a doctorate of pharmacy – can be a great asset in a clinic. It allows for a great deal of immediate attention on drug interaction and is so much better than relying just on the pharmacy. Even if a pharmacist isn’t actually in the office, having a pharmacy or a pharmacy school nearby opens up a great communication channel that allows doctors and patients to be proactive about potential side effects of drugs.
At the end of the day, patients still come to the doctor. However, as clinics move toward team-based models, other players – like nutritionists, therapists and social workers – will step in to tailor patient care.