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.

Certification and the CMA (AAMA) Credential, medication assistant, On the Job, Professional Identity

Levels of Medical Assisting

Here is an interesting question about “levels” of medical assisting:

I work for a very large cardiology practice in North Carolina. Is it permissible to establish tiers of medical assistants based on their skill sets? For example, are we permitted under North Carolina law to have categories such as Medical Assistant I, Medical Assistant II, Medical Assistant III based on the medical assistant’s education, credentialing, and skill sets?

North Carolina law does not forbid employers from establishing tiers or levels of medical assistants. An employer is allowed to determine what elements of knowledge and skill are required for each category of medical assistants and what tasks should be assigned to medical assistants in the respective categories.

However, these levels should not have “CMA” in their titles. The American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) has intellectual property rights to the phrase “certified medical assistant” and the initialisms “CMA (AAMA)” and “CMA.”

Titling these classifications as Medical Assistant I, II, III is permitted under North Carolina law and does not infringe on the trademark and intellectual property rights of the AAMA. See the State Scope of Practice Laws webpage on the AAMA website to access key state legislative materials pertaining to medical assisting.

On the Job, Scope of Practice

Scope of Practice near State Borders

I received the following interesting question:

I’m struggling with a difficult question! I am the clinical operations director for a medical group located in Oregon near the Oregon-Washington border. We provide care to Oregon and Washington residents and employ several medical assistants. As you know, Washington law requires certain medical assistants to meet educational and credentialing requirements and to register with the Washington State Department of Health. There are no such requirements for medical assistants under Oregon law.

Do my medical assistants who assist providers treating Washington residents need to meet the medical assisting requirements of the Washington law? All our providers (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) are licensed in Oregon.

The following is my response:

Because you are located in Oregon and the providers are licensed under Oregon law, the governing law is that of Oregon. Therefore, your medical assistants are not required to meet the requirements and register with the Washington State Department of Health. It does not matter that some patients are residents of Washington.

However, if your medical group had another location in Washington, the medical assistants would have to meet the requirements of Washington law to work as medical assistants.

medication aide, medication assistant, Scope of Practice

CMAs (AAMA), CNAs, and Medication Aides

I recently received the following question:

Does the law permit a CMA (AAMA) to work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a nursing home without meeting the state requirements for registering as a CNA?

The answer is no. A medical assistant—even a CMA (AAMA) who has graduated from a programmatically accredited medical assisting program—must meet the state requirements for CNAs and register with the state as a CNA in order to perform clinical tasks in a skilled nursing facility or other inpatient settings.

Some states have a category of “medication aides (or assistants).” Medication aides are permitted to distribute medications to patients in an inpatient setting, usually under registered nurse authority and supervision. CMAs (AAMA) must also meet state requirements in order to work as a medication aide.

For more discussion on this topic, read my previous blog post “Medical Assistants and Medication Aides/Assistants/Technicians: Differences and Clarifications.”

delegation, Scope of Practice

The Relationship between Scope and Competence

Medical assistants are under a legal duty to not exceed the legal scope of practice in their state.  Medical assistants are also under a legal duty to perform all tasks competently.  It is important to understand the relationship between these two legal duties.

Even if a medical assistant performs a task competently, and meets or exceeds the standard of care that is required of a medical assistant, the medical assistant could face legal sanctions if the task is beyond the legal scope of practice for medical assistants in the state.

Similarly, if a medical assistant performs a task that is permitted under state law, the medical assistant (and, most likely, the medical assistant’s delegating provider) could be sued for negligence if the task is not performed competently.

Medical assistants must make sure they perform all tasks competently.  They must also make sure that the tasks they perform do not exceed the legal scope of practice in the state (or other American jurisdiction) in which they are working. Of course, the best way to do so is by remaining informed about the laws in your own state. To help health care professionals navigate this issue, the AAMA website has a large collection of documents relating to different states’ scope of practice laws. Any medical assisting scope of practice questions that are not covered by these materials can be emailed to me at dbalasa@aama-ntl.org.