Who's Who at the Doctor's Office

Your trip to a new doctor's office can be confusing. You can make the most of your visit by learning the roles of the people who work there.

You're likely to meet some of the following people during your office visit. These descriptions are general. Jobs and duties may differ, depending on the size of the office and the doctor’s specialty.

Medical assistant: After you’ve checked in, a medical assistant may show you to an examination room. They may check your height, weight, and blood pressure. They also will note your symptoms and pass that information on to the doctor. Medical assistants aren’t allowed to offer medical advice.

Office staff and manager: Doctors' offices also have people who work behind the scenes. The manager is in charge of overall business operations. Coders process insurance information. You may meet the office workers if you have a problem with billing or insurance claims.

Sometimes a separate business outside of the doctor’s office handles the billing. If you have billing problems, you may be directed to speak with someone who handles this for your doctor but is not directly employed by his or her office.

Technician: The people who do medical tests are called technicians. They're trained in areas such as:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • drawing blood

Technicians are not allowed to read your test results or offer you a diagnosis or medical advice. They send the information they gather to your provider, usually a doctor.

Nurse: The kind of nurse you meet depends on the size of your doctor’s office and its specialty. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) has earned a diploma or certificate. An LPN typically does basic duties, such as:

  • Check your height and weight
  • Take your medical history
  • Take blood
  • Administer vaccines

A registered nurse (RN) has an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. In a doctor’s office, an RN is often the one who coordinates your care with LPNs, technicians, and any other medical professionals. An RN might perform the same tasks as an LPN, but she is able to do more advanced assessments, counseling,and education. An RN may detect a risk for alcoholism or falls, and share this with your provider. She may teach you how to inject insulin, or how to use your inhalers.

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Physician assistant (PA) and nurse practitioner (NP): Physician assistants and nurse practitioners have received advanced degrees and special training. The rules for what kind of care they provide are up to each state. Typically, they can provide many of the same services as a doctor, such as:

  • Give exams
  • Treat minor injuries
  • Explain lab results

In some states, they can write prescriptions. They also may perform minor surgery.

Doctor: Your doctor had to complete 8 years of school (including four years in medical school) and as many as 8 years of internships, residencies, and fellowships. There are two main types of doctors: MDs (doctors of medicine) and DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine). Either type can be your primary care doctor.

Your doctor can keep track of your health, help you manage any ongoing illnesses, and remind you of regular tests that can keep you from getting sick. He or she may also refer you to a type of doctor known as a specialist, if you need one. For example, you may see a cardiologist if you have problems with your heart health.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 26, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Center for Advancing Health: “Your Doctor’s Office Demystified,” "Who’s Who in Your Doctor’s Office?”

American Nurses Association: “What Nurses Do.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Who's Who in Health Care."

California Department of Consumer Affairs, Physician Assistant Board: “Frequently Asked Questions about Supervising Physician Assistants.”

American College of Physicians: "Patient Centered Medical Home."

U.S. Department of Labor: “What Registered Nurses Do,” “What Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses Do.”

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