delegation, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants and the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

There seems to be some confusion about what a medical assistant is permitted to do in connection with a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV). Let’s start with a description of a Medicare AWV from the May/June 2015 CMA Today article “Prioritizing Prevention: Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit”:

The yearly wellness visit provides seniors with a general health-risk assessment that includes screenings for depression, cognitive impairment, and other health concerns. At the visit, health care providers review the patient’s medical and family history, docu­ment vital measurements, such as height, weight, and blood pressure, and update lists of current providers and prescriptions. At the conclusion of the visit, the patient is provided with a personal health plan, including a long-term schedule for future screenings and preventive services.

Note the following document from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), “The ABCs of the Annual Wellness Visit”:

Medicare Part B covers an AWV if performed by a:

  • Physician (a doctor of medicine or osteopathy)
  • Qualified non-physician practitioner (a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or certified clinical nurse specialist)
  • Medical professional (including a health educator, registered dietitian, nutrition professional, or other licensed practitioner) or a team of medical professionals who are directly supervised by a physician (doctor of medicine or osteopathy)

It is my legal opinion that federal law permits medical assistants to assist licensed health care providers (e.g., MDs/DOs, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) in the performing of an AWV. However, medical assistants are not permitted to perform any part of the AWV that requires the medical assistant to make independent clinical judgments or to make clinical assessments or evaluations.

delegation, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants and Limited Scope Radiography

I receive fewer questions than I did seven or 10 years ago about the legalities of medical assistants performing limited scope radiography. However, in some states medical assistants are called upon to expose patients to ionizing radiation, as specifically directed by the overseeing/delegating provider.

The legality of this task is governed by state law. In some states unlicensed professionals such as medical assistants are forbidden from doing any limited scope radiography. Only licensed radiologic technologists are permitted to perform radiography. In other states medical assistants are required to complete a short course and pass a test in order to be delegated limited scope radiography. In other states limited scope radiography under direct/on-site provider supervision is not regulated. Physicians are permitted to delegate limited scope radiography to knowledgeable and competent employees.

medication administration, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Preparation and Administration of Injections by Medical Assistants

In the current ambulatory care environment, medical assistants are being delegated the preparation of injectable substances, as well as the administration of injections. I often receive questions about legal restrictions on medical assistants preparing injectable substances. In some states, there are specific laws that address this question. In general, it is my legal opinion that, if there is a likelihood of significant harm to a patient if an injectable substance is prepared improperly, the delegating provider must verify the identity and the dosage of the injectable substance before it is administered by the medical assistant.

CPT, CPT codes, delegation, Eligible Professionals, On the Job, Scope of Practice

CMA Today Referenced in Part B News

As many readers of this blog know, I write at length about legal issues affecting the medical assisting profession in each issue of CMA Today, the official publication of the American Association of Medical Assistants. Recently, one of those articles was referenced in a question-and-answer piece in Part B News. (Note: Subscription required.)

The write-up discusses CPT code 69209 (Removal of cerumen using irrigation/lavage) and whether the procedure can be billed if a medical assistant performs it. The author notes several important considerations—for example, the differences in state law and the vagaries of some CPT language—in addition to discussing the CPT definition of “clinical staff” as it relates to medical assistants. Ultimately, the author states the following:

In aggregate, when it comes to medical assistants being eligible to perform services incident to a physician, the answer is “generally yes,” according to recent guidance from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA).

The language the author cited was from my article “‘Incident-to’ billing: Medical assistants’ services under the Medicare CCM program,” which can be found on the AAMA website.

delegation, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Can Medical Assistants Oversee and Perform Physical Therapy?

Recently I fielded a question from a chiropractor in New Jersey looking to expand his practice to include services such as physical therapy. In conducting research into this matter, he had been told that in New Jersey, state law allows MDs to delegate to medical assistants full oversight and performance of physical therapy activities, as prescribed by the MD. He asked whether this was true.

In my response, I cited a recent CMA Today article that addresses this very topic:

An example of [procedures that can be delegated only to certain health professionals other than medical assistants] is physical therapy. Although some states—explicitly or implicitly—permit physicians to delegate very minor physical therapy modalities to competent and knowledgeable medical assistants working under the physician’s direct supervision, no state allows a physician to delegate the full range of physical therapy to anyone other than a licensed physical therapist.

In addition, I recommended contacting the New Jersey Board of Chiropractic Medicine to inquire whether New Jersey statutes, regulations, and policies permit doctors of chiropractic medicine to assign to unlicensed professionals such as medical assistants the overseeing of patients performing exercises assigned by an MD, and whether there are any legal limitations on this. (Similarly, I would recommend such action to chiropractors in other states, as well.)