Medical assistants support doctors and nurses in private practices, hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. But what does an average day on the job look like, and where do tasks like phlebotomy fit in? Let’s take a closer look.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical assistants perform a broad array of clinical and administrative tasks in healthcare settings. Clerical responsibilities include:
- Triaging phone calls
- Managing the schedule
- Updating medical records
- Forwarding referrals
- Filling out insurance forms
- Ordering office supplies
- Helping with billing
Clinical duties consist of:
- Rooming patients
- Taking vital signs
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Administering vaccinations
- Collecting urine samples
- Assisting minor surgical procedures
- Removing stitches
- Sterilizing equipment
- Stocking exam rooms
- Educating patients
Phlebotomy, or venipuncture, the process of drawing a blood sample from a vein, is among a medical assistant’s most important clinical functions because it has invaluable diagnostic value. It’s not a difficult skill to master, but it requires clinical know-how and technical expertise.
What Role Does a Medical Assistant Play in Phlebotomy?
A medical assistant in a small office may only perform venipuncture occasionally. In a high-volume setting, it could be an everyday responsibility. The process of phlebotomy involves:
Reviewing the Order
Lab orders always come with a paper or electronic requisition detailing the tests ordered. Medical codes are included to explain what each is for.
It’s the medical assistant’s role to review requests for accuracy and verify that the patient followed pre-procedure instructions. Requisitions may include critical information about the patient’s tolerance for having blood drawn and allergies to products used in the process. It’s a vital safety measure.
Phlebotomy, like all medical procedures, requires the patient’s informed consent. Being informed means knowing what the doctor ordered and why, what the venipuncture process involves, including potential adverse effects, and when to expect results. A parent or guardian can give consent for minors.
No two patients are alike, so venipuncture equipment varies. Sample collection tubes are color-coded to reflect anticoagulants or other additives they may contain. Medical assistants use their knowledge of laboratory procedures to make the best choices.
Phlebotomy is a clean procedure, being prepared eliminates reaching for items that may introduce germs into the area. The process is stressful for some patients, and preparation makes it more efficient.
Safety in medicine always comes first. Before beginning a venipuncture, the patient’s arm should be properly positioned on a solid surface to avoid slipping. Clients with a history of fainting during blood draws should be laying down.
Performing the Venipuncture
Venipuncture is a standardized technical process. Patients are handled differently, but the steps are always similar.
- A tourniquet is placed on the arm or wrist depending on where the blood will be drawn.
- The needle is inserted, and the blood flows into the collection tube.
- The needle is withdrawn, and gauze is applied to stop the bleeding.
- The gauze is replaced with an adhesive bandage to protect the site and the patient’s clothing.
Technique matters because red blood cells are delicate. Samples that don’t meet quality control criteria may be rejected, necessitating a second draw.
Sample labels must be error-free, so results are posted to the right record. Each should have the client’s full name and date of birth, the ordering doctor’s name and the date and time the blood was collected.
Many tests require specially processed samples, laboratories have written protocols for each. How they’re stored is also important. Refrigeration or freezing can destroy or preserve certain blood components.
Educating the Patient
Before releasing clients, medical assistants should review post-procedure instructions, including how to keep the venipuncture site clean, what to do for bruising and who to call with questions if they have an adverse reaction.
Phlebotomy Equipment and Supplies
A medical assistant’s phlebotomy tools include:
Gloves – it’s impossible to know if patients are carrying blood-borne diseases, so the safest approach to phlebotomy is to treat all body fluids as though they’re potentially contaminated, by wearing gloves.
Alcohol or Chlorhexidine Pads – these pads are used to cleanse the skin before inserting the needle. They don’t sterilize the area, but they remove enough bacteria to drastically reduce the likelihood of infection.
Tourniquets – keeps the vein full and gives it a firmer texture, so it’s less likely to roll when the needle is inserted. It should be released for comfort as soon as blood begins flowing into the collection tube.
Needles – come in a broad range of lengths and diameters to accommodate veins of different sizes and conditions. Diameter is noted in gauge from 14 to 28, the lower the gauge, the larger the needle. Adults typically require a 20 or 22G. Children and seniors benefit from a smaller 25 or 26 G size.
Lengths vary from 0.5 – 1.5 inches. Short needles are preferable for draws from the top of the hand. An inch or longer is required to draw from the antecubital vein at the elbow. Medical assistants select the most appropriate choice based on the size of the patient and the integrity of the vein.
Collection Tubes – blood was once collected in the same kind of syringes used to give shots. Today, it’s done with vacuum tubes that draw blood out of the vein when their rubber stoppers are punctured. It’s a significant improvement resulting in better samples and less trauma to the blood vessel. Tubes come preloaded with necessary additives, saving the phlebotomist a step.
Gauze and Bandages – when the venipuncture is complete, and the needle is withdrawn, gauze pressed over the area stops any residual bleeding. It only takes a drop to ruin an expensive shirt, so applying an adhesive bandage is recommended to keep the site clean and keep blood off the patient’s clothes. Blood can appear to have stopped flowing only to resume when the patient stands.
How Do Medical Assistants Learn Phlebotomy?
Medical assistants learn phlebotomy as part of a vocational school program. They learn the basics in the classroom and then practice in the laboratory on models, peers and patients during supervised externships. Graduates are well-prepared to handle routine phlebotomy and their skills will grow with experience and practice.
Having blood drawn is unpleasant for most patients. It can be scary and sometimes painful. A medical assistant’s primary role in phlebotomy is to take quality samples that have accurate diagnostic value. But their most meaningful role is to make patients feel comfortable and treat them as full partners in their care.
Medical Assistant Technician Diploma Program
Ready to start working toward your medical assistant technician diploma? The Medical Assistant Technician Diploma Program is designed to prepare you to obtain entry-level employment as a medical assistant technician.* This program offers you the opportunity to learn the necessary knowledge and skills both in the classroom and in a supervised clinical practice. You will learn how to prepare patients for various technical examinations such as EKGs and phlebotomy, as well as how to perform several such procedures.
Ready to move from the classroom to a career? Florida Technical College is here to help. Contact us to learn more about completing the medical assistant technician diploma program at Florida Technical College.
*These examples are intended to serve only as a general guide of possible employment opportunities. There are many factors that determine the job an individual may obtain and Florida Technical College cannot guarantee its graduate any particular job. Some positions may require license or other certifications. We encourage you to research the requirements for the particular position you desire.