delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Standing Orders and Supervision Requirements

I welcome further questions about my blog posts because addressing those questions allows me to dive deeper into a pertinent topic for medical assistants who wish to better understand their scope of practice.

For instance, in response to my blog post “Standing Orders from an Overseeing Provider,” I received the following question:

Does a standing order change the supervision requirements for medical assistants? For example, if our state law requires the delegating licensed provider to be on the premises when a medical assistant is performing venipuncture, is this supervision requirement changed by a standing order from the provider?

A standing order does not change the supervision requirement established by state law. The supervision requirements apply regardless of whether the licensed provider issues a standing order, verbal order, or written order. If this were not the case, a provider could circumvent supervision requirements by issuing standing orders instead of verbal orders.

The purpose of supervision requirements is patient protection.

On the Job, Professional Identity

Medical Assistants Must Not Refer to Themselves as “Nurses”

Medical assistants must scrupulously avoid conveying the message that they are nursing personnel or members of any profession other than medical assisting.

It is unethical, illegal, and a disservice to the medical assisting profession for medical assistants to refer to themselves as “nurses,” “office nurses,” “doctors’ nurses,” or any other generic term that even remotely implies that medical assistants are nurses.

Review the supporting evidence within excerpts from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing NCSBN Model Act (2012) and several states’ nurse practice acts in the May/June 2019 Public Affairs article, “Medical Assistants Must Not Refer to Themselves as ‘Nurses,’” on the AAMA website.

delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Standing Orders from an Overseeing Provider

I receive the following question about standing orders fairly often, and it is a bit difficult to answer because state law seldom addresses it:

Our new office manager claims that it is illegal for medical assistants to perform tasks based on standing orders of our licensed providers. She states that only licensed professionals, such as registered nurses (RNs), are permitted to work under standing orders. Is this legally accurate?

Most state laws do not prohibit physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants from assigning tasks to unlicensed allied health professionals such as medical assistants by means of standing orders.

However, the crucial issue is what tasks medical assistants may or may not be delegated by standing order.

It is my legal opinion that medical assistants are permitted to receive and execute standing orders from an overseeing/delegating provider as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The standing order is understood by the medical assistant.
  2. The standing order is for a task that is delegable to medical assistants under the laws of the state, and the delegating provider is exercising the degree of supervision required by the laws of the state.
  3. The standing order is either patient-specific or applicable to all patients without exception.
  4. The standing order does not require the medical assistant to exercise independent clinical judgment or make clinical assessments, evaluations, or interpretations.

If you’d like to know more about your specific state laws, visit the State Scope of Practice Laws webpage on the AAMA website.

delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Distributing vs. Dispensing Drugs

If you’re a medical assistant with questions about handing sample medications or drugs to patients, consider the following situation a CMA (AAMA) in Texas brought to my attention:

I am a CMA (AAMA) employed in a large, multispecialty clinic. I received an order from one of our licensed providers to distribute packets of sample medications to a patient. Is this legal in my state [Texas]? I thought only pharmacists and their staff were permitted to dispense medications.

To answer the question accurately, we have to define some terms. Note the following definitions from the Texas Pharmacy Act:

Sec. 551.003. DEFINITIONS. In Chapters 551-566:

(1) “Administer” means to directly apply a prescription drug to the body of a patient by any means, including injection, inhalation, or ingestion, …

(16) “Dispense” means to prepare, package, compound, or label, in the course of professional practice, a prescription drug or device for delivery to an ultimate user or the user ‘s agent under a practitioner ‘s lawful order.

(17) “Distribute” means to deliver a prescription drug or device other than by administering or dispensing.

Also, note the following from the Texas Occupations Code:

§157.002.General Delegation of Administration and Provision of Dangerous Drugs

(a) In this section:

(1) “Administering” means the direct application of a drug to the body of a patient by injection, inhalation, ingestion, or any other means.

(2) “Provision” means the supply of one or more unit doses of a drug, medicine, or dangerous drug.

(b) A physician may delegate to any qualified and properly trained person acting under the physician’s supervision the act of administering or providing dangerous drugs in the physician’s office, as ordered by the physician, that are used or required to meet the immediate needs of the physician’s patients. The administration or provision of the dangerous drugs must be performed in compliance with laws relating to the practice of medicine and state and federal laws relating to those dangerous drugs.

According to these definitions, “distributing” a drug is not the same as “dispensing” a drug.

Under the laws of most every state, physicians are permitted to distribute/provide sample medications to their patients. (This is also generally the case with nurse practitioners and physician assistants, although the laws vary from state to state.)

The laws of many states explicitly or implicitly permit physicians to assign to knowledgeable and competent medical assistants working under their direct/on-site supervision the distributing or providing of sample medications to patients of the physician.

In the scenario described, the CMA (AAMA) is being asked by a delegating licensed provider to distribute/provide sample medications to patients, not to dispense medications.

It is my legal opinion that, if there is a likelihood of significant harm to a patient if the sample medication is selected or distributed improperly, the delegating provider must verify the identity and the dosage of the sample medication before it is distributed to the patient by the medical assistant.

On the Job

Drug Disposal and Distribution

I sometimes receive questions that extend past the topic of medical assistants’ scope of practice but nevertheless concern issues many medical assistants may face. The following is one such situation that may serve as guidance for others in similar situations.

A handful of our patients in the infusion center [at which I work] have insurances that require their drugs come into our practice via specialty pharmacy, as opposed to our buying the drugs in quantity and storing in inventory. Twice in the past few months, we’ve had the situation arise where we have vials of very expensive infusion drugs no longer needed by the patient, but the pharmacy will not take them back or allow us to return them in any way. …

These drugs are very expensive, and the vials in question have never been in possession of the patient or general public. They have gone straight from the pharmacy to the office. We have other patients [who] struggle with their co-pays and deductibles. Are we able to use the remaining vials for the benefit of other patients? Or are we obligated to destroy [or] dispose of the medicine?

I responded as follows, with some information changed to maintain the correspondent’s privacy:

I understand the fact scenarios and your very good question. Are there any written terms of limitation of use of these infusion drugs? Specifically, does [the gastroenterology center at which you work] have a contractual relationship with the specialty pharmacies, and does [your workplace] have to agree—either explicitly or implicitly by virtue of taking possession of the infusion drugs—to not use the drugs for other patients? You indicate below that the specialty pharmacies do not permit [your workplace] to return the drugs. Are there any other conditions the pharmacies impose on [your workplace]?

If there are no such contractual (or quasi-contractual) limitations placed on [the center at which you work], and if the identity and dosage of the contents of the vials have virtually no likelihood of being incorrect, it is my legal opinion that the drugs may be used for other patients.

I hope this is helpful as a starting point. …  Please let me know how I can be of further assistance.