What is the Difference Between a Medical Office Administration Specialist and a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants and medical office administration specialists play different but equally important roles in healthcare settings. Both are crucial to the delivery of quality care. However, the jobs are different, so you’ll want to explore both before making a career decision.

What Does a Medical Office Administration Specialist Do?

Medical office administration specialists manage the daily business operations of healthcare offices. They have no clinical duties. Responsibilities vary by setting but typically include:


Medical office administration specialists manage the schedule for one or more physicians. In an extensive practice, it could be a dozen or more. Easier said than done, it’s a multifaceted responsibility in which they:

Schedule Routine Appointments – office administration specialists handle calls for routine visits, such as annual exams and follow-up appointments. Collaborating with the clinical team, they handle appointment requests in-person, by phone, and via e-mail, taking into consideration provider availability, the urgency of the patient’s needs, and their availability.

Handle Cancellations and Urgent Care Requests – cancellations are disruptive but unavoidable. Medical office administration specialists reschedule visits in ways that are mutually agreeable for the provider and the patient. Urgent care requests are also common and may need to be squeezed into an already tight schedule.

Emergencies are the rule, not the exception in healthcare settings. Your job as part of the front-office team will be to keep the schedule running as efficiently as possible, minimizing wait times for patients without overwhelming providers. It’s a juggling act.

Send Appointment Reminders – missed appointments and late arrivals can cause chaos and lost revenue. Medical office administration specialists send reminders about upcoming appointments via phone, email, or text message so that patients know exactly when to arrive.

Patient Registration

Medical office administration specialists register patients before appointments. The registration process includes:

Reviewing Demographic Information – confirming the patient’s name, address, date of birth and contact information mitigates medical errors and facilitates accurate communication between patients, healthcare providers, insurers, and billing specialists.

Insurance Verification – medical office administration specialists verify patient insurance information. This includes confirming policy numbers, establishing coverage, and obtaining authorization for services.

Obtaining Consent to Treat – obtaining informed consent for treatment is necessary for billing purposes. Medical office administration specialists support patient-centered decision-making by reviewing forms, answering questions, and gathering signatures.

Collecting Payments – co-insurance payments are typically collected before a visit begins. As a medical office administration specialist, you’ll be responsible for accepting cash, check, and credit card remittances.


Medical office administration specialists manage health records. Responsibilities include:

Creating New Records – medical office administration specialists create new medical records for each patient, ensuring that all documentation from previous providers is filed and accessible to the new caregiver.

Maintaining Records – every patient encounter generates new notes and other reports to file. Office administration specialists keep paper and electronic health records (EHR) up to date, organized, accessible, and easy to find.

Responding to Record Requests – office administration specialists pull records for providers before patients arrive. They also respond to requests for copies of records in compliance with privacy laws.

Record Storage and Disposal

Medical office administration specialists handle the storage and disposal of medical records, ensuring that data is archived or discarded in a secure way that doesn’t compromise patient privacy.

Billing and Coding

Billing begins at registration with the creation of a superbill, an itemized checklist of services rendered and their corresponding billing codes. Healthcare providers check off the services provided, and the superbill goes to the billing department for follow-up. Medical office administration specialists also assist with submitting insurance claims, invoicing, and collections.

Managing Communication

Effective communication is the foundation of healthcare. As the patient’s first contact, medical office administration specialists play a key role as practice liaisons. They also facilitate communication between the administrative and clinical teams. Whether it’s relaying messages, forwarding e-mails, or scheduling meetings, they keep everyone on the same page.

General Office Management

“General office management” is code for keeping offices well-organized. In addition to their primary duties, medical office administration specialists:

  • Track inventory
  • Order supplies
  • Welcome visitors
  • Work with vendors
  • Maintain office equipment
  • Monitor compliance with safety regulations
  • Manage patient hospitality
  • Safeguard data systems
  • Collaborate with the billing department
  • Train and supervise new staff

What Is the Difference Between a Medical Office Administration Specialist and a Medical Assistant?

Medical assistants and medical office administration specialists are sound-alike roles, but there are key differences, including:

Job Responsibilities

Medical assistants provide clinical and clerical support to healthcare providers, participating in a wide range of tasks including medical and diagnostic procedures. Medical office administration specialists have no clinical duties. Instead, they focus on complex administrative duties that exceed what a medical assistant is trained for, such as billing and coding.

Education and Training

Medical assistants need a technical school diploma or an associate degree plus certification to be successful. Medical office administration specialists are work-ready with a certificate or diploma. Certification is often optional but looks good on a resume. Diploma program graduates are prepared for certification exams.

Work Environment

Medical assistants work in the clinical area of medical offices, working closely with patients and healthcare providers. Medical office administration specialists typically work in administrative-only settings. You’ll spend more time on the business of the office than on patient care.

Advancement Potential

The future is bright for medical assistants and medical office administration specialists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong growth in both fields through 2031. They project employment of medical assistant to grow 16 percent in the coming decade.

With education and experience, both can build on their credentials to advance in the medical field. Medical assistants may become certified phlebotomists, laboratory technicians or nurses. Medical office administration specialists can grow into more responsible roles in the administrative, billing, or human resources fields.

How Do You Become a Medical Office Administration Specialist?

A great healthcare career in patient care can take years in college to train for, but you can become a medical office administration specialist in months with a technical school diploma. Even if you have little experience in the healthcare field, a technical school education prepares you for success. The curriculum is comprehensive but job-focused, centering on the practical, hands-on skills you need to launch your new career.

Technical school programs train students in a broad range of medical administrative practices and processes. Topics include:

Greeting Patients

Healthcare offices have high standards for professional behavior. Sick and emotionally vulnerable people require a different approach than customers at other businesses. In a technical school program, medical office administration specialists learn from seasoned instructors how to get off on the right foot with patients, establishing rapport and building trust in the healthcare team.

Appointment Scheduling

Scheduling appointments in a healthcare facility is challenging for several reasons. Healthcare providers often have limited availability due to their busy schedules, which can make it difficult to schedule appointments at a convenient time for patients. Emergencies and unexpected events can also disrupt the schedule, causing delays that cause stress for both patients and healthcare providers. And some medical procedures require specific equipment, personnel, or preparation, making appointments increasingly difficult to coordinate. Technical school programs introduce students to the scheduling process, including the use of scheduling software.

Medical Billing and Coding

Medical billing is complicated, requiring the use of alphanumeric codes on insurance forms. These codes are used industry-wide for billing, research, and goal setting, so accuracy is critical.

Technical school programs cover the basics of billing, including insurance models, the healthcare revenue cycle, and medical coding systems. Students work on case studies using the three most popular indices, ICD-10, CPT, and HCPCS.


Healthcare is a highly regulated field. As front office leaders, medical office administration specialists help manage regulatory compliance with HIPPA, OSHA, and JCAHO rules.

HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, governs how sensitive health data can be used and shared. In a front office role, safeguarding patient privacy is paramount, so students learn how to implement data security measures. Violations of HIPAA can result in significant financial penalties for employers and job loss for the staff members involved.

OSHA – the Occupation Health Safety Administration creates the regulations that keep employees and visitors safe. In a medical office, there are potential physical, chemical, and radiological hazards. If an office offers X-rays, for example, the areas where radiation is produced are off-limits to patients and staff who are not properly protected. Medical office administration specialists monitor the waiting area, directing people away from those spaces.

JCAHO – stands for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. It’s an independent, non-profit organization that accredits US healthcare facilities.

For medical office administration specialists, JCAHO accreditation has many implications. Those who work in JCAHO-accredited facilities are responsible for ensuring that their workplaces meet or exceed patient care standards. Medical office administration specialists also help implement the quality assurance and improvement initiatives used to maintain accreditation.

Final Thoughts

Healthcare careers are among the most rewarding, regardless of whether you choose to be a medical office administration specialist or medical assistant. Let your aptitudes and aspirations be your guide.

Want to Learn More?

All healthcare facilities, from hospitals and physician’s offices, to rehab centers, clinics, and every other type of medical practice, rely on skilled Medical Office Administration programs to function. We’ll train you on a wide range of medical administrative practices and processes. Plus, you’ll get real-world experience through a 135-hour school externship in an actual healthcare facility. You’ll also interact with people from all walks of life, making your daily routine anything but dull.

So, let’s take the first step together! Contact us now to learn more.

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