Regulation of Medicine

article

Roles and Duties of Medical Assistants and Licensed Practical Nurses

Executive Summary

Although the scope of practice for medical assistants and licensed practical nurses overlap to some extent, it’s important that healthcare practices understand the differences. Healthcare organizations need also to understand the responsibilities they have when it comes to overseeing medical assistants and licensed practical nurses to mitigate any potential risks.

Recommended Actions
  • Ensure that your healthcare organization has a policy addressing the scope of practice for all MAs and LPNs employed.
  • Ensure that all employees understand the policy and any obligations arising under it.
  • Keep copies of any required licenses and/or certifications for MAs and LPNs employed at your healthcare organization.

The Role of Medical Assistants

Medical assistants do not need to be licensed or certified to enter the career, and most states do not require any type of formal education.[1] Some states, such as California, have laws that define the scope of practice for MAs, though most states do not.[2] Check your state laws for specifics.

Duties Medical Assistants May Perform[3]
  • Record patient history and personal information
  • Escort patients to exam rooms
  • Measure vital signs, such as blood pressure
  • Help physicians with patient examinations
  • Give patients injections or medications as directed by physicians and as permitted by state law
  • Prepare blood samples for laboratory tests
  • Enter patient information into medical records
  • Remove sutures or staples from superficial wounds
  • Call in new prescriptions or refills to the pharmacy under the order of the physician
  • Collect blood specimens
  • Perform simple laboratory and screening tests customarily performed in a medical office
  • As authorized by MD or DPM, provide patient information and instructions
  • Apply and remove bandages and dressings.

The Role of Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) must be licensed to enter the career. They often work in long-term care facilities and nursing homes instead of physician offices or hospitals. Every state has a nurse practice act that defines the scope of practice for LPNs as well as registered nurses (RNs). LPNs are usually supervised by either an RN or a physician.
Duties LPNs May Perform[4]
  • Monitor patients’ health, such as checking their blood pressure
  • Administer basic patient care, including changing bandages and inserting catheters
  • Provide for the basic comfort of patients, such as helping them bathe or dress
  • Discuss the care they are providing with patients and listen to their concerns
  • Report patients’ status and concerns to registered nurses and doctors
  • Keep records on patients’ health
  • Perform CPR in emergencies.
Duties LPNs May Not Perform

Check your state’s Nurse Practice Act for the scope of practice for LPNs. Every state has a nurse practice act that defines the scope of practice for LPNs as well as registered nurses. LPNs’ duties vary depending on their practice setting and the state in which they work. For example, in some states, LPNs are allowed to start IVs, while in others they are not. State laws and regulations also govern how much direct supervision of an LPN is necessary by an RN or physician, though some states allow LPNs to supervise and direct medical assistants and other unlicensed medical staff.

Lessons Learned
  • Ensure that your healthcare practice is staying up-to-date on any state or local laws regarding the scope of practice for MAs and LPNs.
  • Before hiring, consider discussing the exact duties that MAs or LPNs will be responsible for at your healthcare organization.
  • Ensure that nurses and physicians understand their supervision requirements when it comes to MAs and LPNs and are maintaining documentation of compliance with these requirements.
Potential Damages

Healthcare organizations that fail to properly manage their medical assistants and licensed practical nurses run the risk of promoting improper patient care and thus could face a claim for medical malpractice. Although infrequent, those costs can stack up, especially if the organization must defend itself in a costly lawsuit.

Quiz

Answers are provided below

True or false?

Question 1: Licensed practical nurses do not need a license to perform their duties.

Question 2: Medical assistants do not need to be licensed to enter the career.

Question 3: Healthcare organizations should review their state’s nurse practice act for the scope of practice for LPNs in their state.

Answers

Question 1: False. LPNs must be licensed to enter the career.

Question 2: True. MAs do not need to be licensed or certified to enter the career, and most states do not require any type of formal education.

Question 3: True. Every state has a nurse practice act that defines the scope of practice for LPNs as well as registered nurses. 

[1] How to Become a Medical Assistant, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4 (last modified April 12, 2019)

[2] Compare 16 C.C.R § 1366.3 (defining the scope of practice for medical assistants), with Ga. Code Ann. § 43-34-44 (“Nothing in this article shall be construed to prohibit the performance by medical assistants of medical tasks”)

[3] What Medical Assistants Do, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-assistants.htm#tab-4 (last modified April 12, 2019)

[4] What Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses Do, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-2 (last modified June 14, 2019)

09/22

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Disclaimer

The information provided in this resource does not constitute legal, medical or any other professional advice, nor does it establish a standard of care. This resource has been created as an aid to you in your practice. The ultimate decision on how to use the information provided rests solely with you, the PolicyOwner.