delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Relaying Providers’ Orders by Telephone

Part of the AAMA’s mission is to protect medical assistants’ scope of practice. Sometimes that means gathering evidence to prove that what other health professionals think is a limitation of medical assistants’ scope of practice is unsubstantiated by state law. Consider the following from a medical assistant in Wisconsin:

I work in a small physician-owned clinic. Our primary care providers visit two local skilled nursing facilities each month. … [Does] our state permit nurses to take a provider’s order by telephone that is conveyed by a medical assistant? These telephone orders are always followed up by a written electronic order from the provider. [But] we are being told that nursing home staff will only take telephone orders directly from licensed health professionals.

Why would this be any different from a provider directing one of our medical assistants to convey a normal lab value? Our providers would spend all day calling the nursing homes if medical assistants cannot relay information at the request of the provider. If the nursing home staff members do not understand the order, they can always ask for clarification from one of our providers.

I reviewed the nurse practice act and the regulations and policies of Wisconsin’s state board of nursing. I found nothing stating that registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are prohibited from receiving and executing orders from a licensed provider (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) that are transmitted verbatim by telephone by an unlicensed allied health professional, such as a medical assistant.

Unless state law specifically indicates otherwise, my legal opinion is that knowledgeable and competent medical assistants are permitted to convey verbatim information (including orders) on behalf of the delegating provider and receive verbatim information for the overseeing provider. Information conveyed by telephone should be followed up by a written order (electronic or hard copy).

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