Scope of Practice

Is Medical Assisting Governed by State Law or Federal Law?

Like most other health professions, medical assisting is governed primarily by state law. This is due to the wording of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Because the power to regulate professions and occupations is not delegated to the United States Congress in Article I of the Constitution, it remains within the sovereign authority of each state. This authority includes establishing education and credentialing prerequisites for the practice of a profession, delineating legal and ethical responsibilities for the professionals, and issuing and enforcing disciplinary standards for breaches of these responsibilities.

Therefore, the legal scope of practice of medical assistants (which is coterminous with the legal authority of licensed health care providers to delegate to medical assistants) is established by state legislation, regulations and policies of state boards that regulate health professionals who delegate to medical assistants, and common law principles arising from court decisions and usual and customary practice. Federal law, however, sometimes impacts medical assisting scope of practice. The meaningful use regulations of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are a current and significant example. Federal statute and CMS rule require a certain percentage of medication/prescription, laboratory, and diagnostic imaging orders to be entered into the computerized provider order entry (CPOE) system by licensed health care professionals or “credentialed medical assistants” in order for a licensed eligible professional to receive incentive payments under the Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program.

delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Delegation from Varying Licensed Providers

Determining whether you are successfully working within your legal scope of practice as a medical assistant requires recognizing some situational nuances, especially on the matter of delegation. The following demonstrates one such instance:

I work in an outpatient practice setting. At times, I work under the authority and supervision of a physician. At other times, I work under the authority of a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. I have been informed that my legal scope of practice is the same regardless of which licensed provider is assigning tasks to me. Is this correct?

Not necessarily. Under the laws of most states, the medical assistants’ scope of practice is determined by the practice act and regulations of the delegating provider.

For example, the nurse practice act and the regulations and policies of the state’s board of nursing determine which tasks nurses (including advanced practice registered nurses [APRNs], such as nurse practitioners) are permitted to delegate to medical assistants.

On the other hand, the medical practice act and the regulations and policies of the state’s board of medical examiners delineate which duties physicians are allowed to assign to medical assistants. And physician assistant delegation authority is established by other state statutes, regulations, and policies.

There are legal nuances that must be taken into consideration. Some states permit nurse practitioners to work autonomously and without a collaborative practice agreement with a physician. In these states the delegation authority of autonomous nurse practitioners is determined by the nurse practice act and the rules of the board of nursing.

However, nurse practitioners in an independent-practice state may choose to work under physician authority and supervision, and physicians may assign nurse practitioners to oversee medical assistants who are performing tasks delegated to them by a physician. In such a case, both the medical practice act and the nurse practice act may have a bearing on the scope of practice of a medical assistant.

delegation, On the Job, Scope of Practice

Comments to the Montana Board of Medical Examiners

In the effort to protect patients in Montana from substandard medical assisting services, the Montana Society of Medical Assistants (MSMA) and the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) wrote to the Montana Board of Medical Examiners on the proposed New Rule I “Medical Assistant—Delegation and Supervision.” Read the comments as well as an excerpt from the proposed new rules in the latest Public Affairs article. Access “Comments to the Montana Board of Medical Examiners” in the September/October 2018 issue of CMA Today on the AAMA website.

On the Job, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants in Camping Settings

I recently received the following question:

I was wondering whether medical assistants in my state are eligible to become overnight camp health officers and whether we are allowed to give intramuscular and subcutaneous injections as needed. No health care provider would be physically present. However, one or more providers (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) would be available by phone.

Under the laws of your state, medical assistants are not permitted to serve as camp health officers when no licensed health care provider is present and immediately available. This is because health professionals in a camping setting may be called upon to deal with situations that require the making of immediate clinical assessment and evaluations and the exercise of independent clinical judgments. Medical assistants are not taught the knowledge and skills necessary to function in this capacity.

Medical assistants are permitted to assist licensed health care providers in a camping environment, however.

delegation, Medicare, On the Job, Scope of Practice

The Role of Medical Assistants in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

The role of medical assistants—especially CMAs (AAMA)—in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) continues to be a topic of interest and inquiry for health care professionals. The latest Public Affairs article attempts to clarify what AWV tasks are and are not delegable to medical assistants. Read “The Role of Medical Assistants in the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit” in the July/August 2018 issue of CMA Today on the AAMA website.