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Tag: Timothy Hoff

The Unlikely Heroes of Healthcare

The unlikely heroes of American health care do not have fancy degrees. They are ordinary workers with high school degrees who can do their jobs with as little as an additional year of training. On average, they earn between $30,000 and $40,000 annually. Many have never worked in health care before. They work as employees, and almost all are female. They are the indispensable go to workers of the new American health care system because they are inexpensive to use and they can be plugged into many different workflows within a medical setting. They are medical assistants.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical duties under the direction of a physician. In 2014 there were almost 600,000 medical assistants employed in the United States, earning on average fifteen dollars an hour. Most of these work in physician offices, primarily in ambulatory care settings. Three states—California, Florida, and Texas—employ almost a third of all U.S. medical assistants. Every health care delivery organization in the Boston area now leans heavily on these workers to meet their production demands.

Medical assistants are a highly practical, cost-effective disruption that makes doctors’ lives easier, nurses able to upskill and do more, and patients gain easier access to and reliability around their care. No other workers in health care are involved in such a wide array of duties. Physicians increasingly rely on them as their jack of all trades support staff. Many patients in primary care now have more face and phone time with an MA than they do with their primary care doctor, who increasingly is hidden from our view, funneled towards the most complex patient visits coming through their door each day.

Beyond their direct interface with patients, medical assistants also support the quality reporting and performance measurement work in today’s doctors’ offices, often making sure quality data are complete and accurate within electronic health records, tracking down needed information, steering patients to required services, and getting performance data to the various insurance plans and accrediting agencies. This work is increasingly important for health care organizations to get paid, and for patients to get better care.

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Tending to the Health Care Workers of America

flying cadeuciiGiven the attention now paid to implementing national health reform, the bulk of which is now upon us as 7 million new individuals now have health insurance, one important issue remains largely ignored by policy makers and industry leaders–health care workers are very unhappy.

A 2012 national survey of 24,000 physicians across all specialties found that if given the choice, just over half of these doctors — only 54 percent — would choose medicine as a career again.  Fifty-nine percent of physicians in a 2013 survey could not recommend their profession to a younger person, and forty-two percent were dissatisfied in their jobs.  Forty percent of physicians in another 2013 national survey self-identified as burned out.

Nursing has gained the moniker of one of the least happy jobs in America, with nurses traditionally experiencing high rates of job dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover.  Some of the reason for this malaise among our highest status health professionals has to do with the stressful, uncertain nature of health care work.

But it also is an outcome of the everyday worlds in which all health care workers now find themselves:  a world drenched in paperwork, packed patient schedules, and decreased control.  In short, the new world of health reform.

We are in the midst of a technological and business revolution in health care delivery. We are also on expanding patient demand in ways not seen in generations.  But we are not meeting the needs of health care workers, who are expected to produce at a higher level than ever before.

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