Key Components to Building a Solid Physician/Medical Assistant Team

July 15, 2014

Spending time with your medical assistant will help the day run more smoothly, as well as increase patient and staff satisfaction.

I am working with a physician in our organization who is newly graduated from residency and struggling with some aspects of clinical practice, including how to best work with his medical assistant. As any practicing physician knows, your medical assistant can make or break your day. In the search for work-life balance, it is essential that the team working with you - whether at work or home - is functioning well.

I find that like many relationships, the one between a physician and medical assistant can suffer from lack of attention: too little time spent together; failed expectations; and an overall lack of good communication. This was recently reinforced for me when I shared the ultimate outcome of a very challenging patient with my medical assistant. She kept both of us after clinic for over an hour when she was unfortunately diagnosed with metastatic cervical cancer, after avoiding the doctor for 30 years. I shared her journey with my medical assistant over the next two weeks, including when she passed away. My medical assistant is now at a new level of "fired-up" about cervical-cancer screening, now that she has seen firsthand how devastating the outcome can be for women who do not have regular pap smears. This has helped us become better united in our preventive-health efforts.

There are a few key components to a great medical assistant/physician relationship.

1. Take the time to educate your medical assistant. For example, take 10 minutes over lunch to talk about what blood pressure goals are, how to best measure blood pressure, simple education she can share with patients, and how you would like her to address an elevated blood pressure measurement. Often, we assume that medical assistants are not being helpful when they simply have knowledge gaps.

2. Set clear expectations. Does your medical assistant know how you want a patient with diabetes roomed - shoes on or off? Have you communicated whether you'd prefer to have the mammogram scheduled before you walk in the room or after you leave? It should be easy and not surprising for your medical assistant to assess whether he met your expectations or not at the end of the day. He cannot read minds and shouldn't be expected to do so.

3. Communicate the good and the bad. It is hard to remember but relatively easy to share positive reinforcement. However, it is essential to respect your medical assistant enough to share the areas that could've been done better. Sometimes you will find that some type of failure in the day was the result of lack of knowledge, unclear expectations, or a circumstance of which you were unaware.

4. Be approachable. Your medical assistant sees a view of your patients that you don't. Make sure that it is easy for her to approach you with concerns, questions, or observations. She is part of the healthcare team. It is important that she is aware how essential her contributions are.

In exchange for the time you spend with your medical assistant establishing a great work relationship, it is likely that you will find happier and more satisfied patients, that your medical assistant will feel an increased sense of work satisfaction, that she will be able to increasingly assist you with multiple aspects of patient care, and that you will also find your day runs more smoothly.