Medical offices have a lot of staff but one common goal—helping you, the patient.  Here are some of the people you may meet during your doctor’s appointment:

  • Receptionists or office staff –These professionals are often the first team members you encounter. Typically, they verify your appointment details, request additional paperwork and process insurance information.
  • Practice manager or administrators – Practice administrators manage the overall business operations. They may be able to answer your financial questions or direct you to someone in billing to discuss payment plans or discounts.
  • Medical assistant – Medical assistants may take you to the exam room, record vital information and record weight and blood pressure. A medical assistant notes your symptoms and presents that information to the physician, but isn’t qualified to offer medical advice.
  • Technician (or a “tech”), such as a radiology technicianphlebotomist or laboratory technician – This person performs specialized tasks such as taking X-rays, drawing blood or examining laboratory specimens.
  • Nurse – A nurse can provide medical advice, do wellness checks and give vaccinations. Depending on their level of training and state regulations, nurses may be able to do everything from collect tissue samples to write prescriptions.
  • Physician’s assistant (PA) – PAs are licensed to practice medicine under a physician’s direction. A PA can perform exams, treat minor injuries and interpret lab test results. In some cases, they may prescribe medicine.
  • Physicians – More commonly referred to as doctor, physicians attend eight years of schooling and up to eight years of internship and perform exams and tests, diagnose illnesses, administer treatments and prescribe drugs.

Who Answers Your Questions?

Though it depends largely on the practice, nurses may help solve problems and answer questions over the phone; they may also offer advice on when you should schedule an office visit and whether medication side effects you’re experiencing warrant an appointment with a physician. As you’re leaving any physician’s visit, ask how you’ll receive lab results, whether a follow-up visit is required and where you should direct questions.

Original post by the Center for Advancing Health. Updated by the GW Cancer Institute March 2016.