INTRODUCTION: Medical assistants (MAs) were once limited to obtaining vital signs and office work. Now, MAs are foundational to team-based care, interacting with patients, systems, and teams in many ways. The transition to Virtual Health during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a further rapid and unique shift of MA roles and responsibilities. We sought to understand the impact of this shift and to place their new roles in the context of national professional competency standards.METHODS: In this qualitative, grounded theory study we conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 MAs at 10 primary care sites at a major academic medical center on their experiences during the shift from in-person to virtual care. MAs were selected by convenience sample. Coding was done in Dedoose version 8.335. Consensus-based inductive and deductive approaches were used for interview analysis. Identified MA roles were compared to national MA, Institute of Medicine, physician, and nursing professional competency domains.RESULTS: Three main themes emerged: Role Apprehension, Role Expansion, and Adaptability/Professionalism. Nine key roles emerged in the context of virtual visits: direct patient care (pre-visit and physical care), panel management, health systems ambassador, care coordination, patient flow coordination, scribing, quality improvement, and technology support. While some prior MA roles were limited by the virtual care shift, the majority translated directly or expanded in virtual care. Identified roles aligned better with Institute of Medicine, physician, and nursing professional competencies, than current national MA curricula.CONCLUSIONS: The transition to Virtual Health decreased MA's direct clinical work and expanded other roles within interprofessional care, notably quality improvement and technology support. Comparison of the current MA roles with national training program competencies identified new leadership and teamwork competencies which could be expanded during MA training to better support MA roles on inter-professional teams.
View details for DOI 10.1177/21501327211004285
View details for PubMedID 33764223