You might be familiar with the tasks medical assistants could be expected to perform — both clinical and administrative — but do you know what they can’t do? Generally speaking, medical assistants are prohibited from examining, diagnosing, providing medical advice to or treating patients. They do no practice medicine and thus cannot make assessments or perform any sort of decision making when it comes to medical care. These responsibilities fall within the scope of physician assistants, which are often confused with medical assistants.
In reality, though, a medical assistant’s allowable duties vary depending on each state’s laws, but in most states, medical assistants cannot do the following:
- Diagnose patients’ ailments
- Interpret patients’ medical data
- Plan or independently perform treatments for patients
- Advise patients about their condition or treatment
- Analyze lab results
- Prescribe or refill medications
- Independently administer medication
- Independently distribute medication samples
- Administer anesthetics (except topical numbing agents, like cream)
- Perform physical therapy
- Give injections that penetrate skin or draw blood
- Administer intravenous (IV) therapy
- Conduct any test involving the penetration of human tissues (for example, endoscopy, colonoscopy, spinal tap)
- Operate laser equipment
- Take x-rays
Note: Some of these tasks might be permitted by individual state laws, and the medical assistant may need additional training and certification in order to perform them.
The states below specifically address medical assistant guidelines in their laws and may stipulate additional duties not normally performed by MAs in other states:
Because of the wide variations in laws, as a medical assistant, you should research the duties your state allows you to perform in order to avoid any potential legal complications. If you’re unsure of your state’s regulations, the American Association of Medical Assistants has set up a web page called What Can Medical Assistants Do? that allows you to submit questions for clarification.