New Program Helps Medical Assistants Adapt to Aging Patient Population

The American Association of Medical Assistants’ new Assessment-Based Certificate in Geriatrics program aims to help these front-line healthcare professionals develop knowledge and interpersonal skills to better serve elderly patients.

For many patients, a medical assistant is the first healthcare professional they see on a visit to a doctor’s office. And as the population ages, these professionals—who perform both administrative and clinical duties—need the right knowledge and interpersonal skills to interact effectively with older patients.

That’s the challenge the American Association of Medical Assistants is looking to meet with the launch of its new Assessment-Based Certificate (ABC) in Geriatrics.

“Medical assistants need to be very culturally competent and also able to relate to patients,” said Don Balasa, AAMA’s CEO and legal counsel. “The reason that this ABC was put together was to equip some of our medical assistants to be able to help providers who focus their practices on the elderly population.”

The program includes four courses, which are structured around key clinical topics in geriatrics. Its assessment-based design means enrollees must pass the tests administered after each course and a final exam before earning the certificate.

“We thought it was important, in order to meet the demands of medical assistants, to be able to take a concentrated set of courses with examinations at the end of each module,” Balasa said. “This would provide the knowledge that a medical assistant would need to be able to focus on the area of geriatrics.”

AAMA’s continuing education board proposed the idea of a certificate program in geriatrics and worked with experts to implement it. The program is based on surveys from aspiring geriatric medical assistants. This data provided AAMA with greater insight into the job skills and interpersonal traits necessary for geriatric medical assistants to be successful in the field.

The new program was motivated by the changing healthcare landscape, Balasa said. The U.S. Census Bureau projects [PDF] considerable growth in the nation’s older population, which translates to an increase in the number geriatric patients. Meanwhile, healthcare delivery has shifted to outpatient settings, where most medical assistants work. These factors pose significant challenges for medical assistants if they are unable to adapt, he said.

Although the certificate program is tailored to medical assistants and those who hold the association’s CMA (AAMA) credential, Balasa predicts it will interest other healthcare professionals and providers, from registered nurses to physician assistants.

And medical assistants with limited experience should not be discouraged from enrolling. “I don’t think it’s limited to those who have 10 or 15 years of experience,” Balasa said.

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Thorne McFarlane

By Thorne McFarlane

Thorne is an assistant editor for Associations Now and a literature buff who loves a great story. Have something interesting to share? Send it his way. MORE

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