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New Roles for Medical Assistants in Innovative Primary Care Practices

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Objective: To identify and describe new roles for medical assistants (MAs) in innovative care models that improve care while providing training and career advancement opportunities for MAs.

Data Sources/Study Setting: Primary data collected at 15 case study sites; 173 key informant interviews and de-identified secondary data on staffing, wages, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes.

Study Design: Researchers used snowball sampling and screening calls to identify 15 organizations using MAs in new roles. Conducted site visits from 2010 to 2012 and updated information in 2014.

Data Collection/Extraction Methods: Thematic analysis explored key topics: factors driving MA role innovation, role description, training required, and wage gains. Categorized outcome data in patient and staff satisfaction, quality of care, and efficiency.

Principal Findings: New MA roles included health coach, medical scribe, dual role translator, health navigator, panel manager, cross-trained flexible role, and supervisor. Implementation of new roles required extensive training. MA incentives and enhanced compensation varied by role type.

Conclusions: New MA roles are part of a larger attempt to reform workflow and relieve primary care providers. Despite some evidence of success, spread has been limited. Key challenges to adoption included leadership and provider resistance to change, cost of additional MA training, and lack of reimbursement for nonbillable services.

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