Medical Assisting students get hands-on experience with critical industry software
The ability to navigate Electronic Medical Records (EMR) software is a vital component of working as a Medial Assistant. This is why Salter College provides a course as part of its training program that essentially creates a Simulated Medical Office through the wonders of technology.
Dr. Phillip Wong is an instructor in at the West Boylston Campus of Salter College who teaches in the Medical Assisting program. As a licensed chiropractor who runs his own private practice, he is all-too-familiar with the practical and administrative factors of what helps a medical office to run smoothly and efficiently. He takes this know-how into the classroom with his students, using this administrative medical software as a tool.
The software creates a mock office system that allows Medical Assisting students to practice electronic administrative aspects of the role. Students get to dive in and gain practical experience within the supportive learning environment of the classroom. “Best of all, this is quite similar to what students will see when they work in a real medical office,” Dr. Wong says.
A virtual front desk
Dr. Wong explains that there are three components to the software. The first, called “Front Desk,” allows students to practice elements such as scheduling appointments. It equips them to handle issues such as double booking (of more than one patient for the same block of time) and cluster booking, of patients with similar conditions or needing similar treatments during the same portion of the day.
Through using the software, students learn to distinguish between the needs of a new patient and an established patient, given the impact this status will have on the amount of time a physician will require for the visit. Wong explains to his students how, in his own practice, he may need only 15 minutes to treat an established patient who comes in routinely for a treatment, whereas he will need additional time for a new patient, to take their medical history, perform the initial exam, and engage in discussion about any problems and concerns.
Students get to practice other administrative functions related to scheduling as well, such as how to handle challenges for multiple physicians at the same time and blocking out time for meetings, lunch breaks, and vacation time. He helps students to see the advantages the electronic system can have for a practice that may have a limited number of patient rooms or conference rooms. Schedulers can ensure that the same space is not booked for more than one purpose—an error that can throw off an entire office’s schedule for the rest of the day, leaving both patients and physicians frustrated.
Getting comfortable with codes and billing
The second aspect of the software pertains to a medical office’s clinical activities, and especially the individual patient electronic medical records, including diagnostic codes. Although this training is not as in-depth as what Salter College Medical Billing and Coding program provides, Wong’s class offers an essential overview. “This helps Medical Assisting students to become familiar with how a practice assigns ICD10 and CPT® codes,” he says. The acronym ICD stands for International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a list created by the World Health Organization (WHO). The industry currently uses the 10th edition of this list. CPT stands for Current Procedural Terminology codes, which the American Medical Association developed in the 1960s and the healthcare industry has been using ever since.
The billing component of the simulation helps students to see how patients are billed for certain diagnoses. “These codes are assigned to every procedure or treatment a patient might receive—from a hot pack to medication,” says Wong, “so it’s clear how to bill out to the patient’s insurance company for reimbursement.” He says the system also allows users to search for what a patient has already paid for past services and what they might currently owe, and creates patient statements automatically. “It even generates referral and collection letters for past due accounts,” he says. Users can print out fee schedules, which reflect the practice’s current pricing structure for each procedure, to provide to to the patient.
Practical training for on the job
“The skills students build in the process of using this software in class are critical in the world of today’s healthcare,” Wong says. He explains that the model is equipped to handle the needs of large hospital systems, with thousands of patients to track and treat. “However, it can paralyze even a smaller physician’s office if the staff does not understand the details and procedures of software like this,” he adds.
Through the practice in class, students gain familiarity with password-protected areas of the system, which support a practice’s compliance with HIPAA’s patient privacy regulations. Wong emphasizes that the system permits customized searches, which can be especially helpful for a practice that wants to encourage its patients to take part in preventative medicine. For instance, if a physician would like to send out reminders to all her male patients over 50 years of age to come into the office for a colonoscopy, a medical assistant can enter those parameters into the system and generate a targeted list. “In terms of making follow-up phone calls and scheduling,” Wong says, “this software can be key to being fast and efficient.”
Balancing the pros and cons
As part of the Simulated Medical Office classroom experience, Salter College’s Medical Assisting students evaluate the pros and cons of this relatively expensive software—including for a small business owner, which may be tempted to stick with a more traditional scheduling book. “We discuss how, in a small office with one doctor and a limited number of patients, a hard-copy book might be manageable,” Wong says. Over time, though, students come to appreciate how the investment can be worth the cost, given a considerable volume of patients and services, and the need for multiple staff members to be logged in at the same time.
Dr. Wong makes it clear to his students that this training interface may not be exactly like what they will see in their job as a medical assistant. However, it provides exposure to the same features and organization. He assigns various tasks to the students, which they perform electronically, and he is able check their work electronically as well. “We use this training component because it translates so effectively into any medical setting,” says Wong, “so we know we’re equipping our students as best we can for what they’ll encounter in the workplace.”
This post is part of the Salter College weekly blog. We’re dedicated to helping all our students pursue their professional goals. Contact us today to learn more our various career training programs, or to request more information. To schedule a visit, please call our Chicopee campus (413-206-0300) or our West Boylston campus (774-261-1500). We look forward to hearing from you!