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How to Become a Patient Service Representative

Learn how to become a patient service representative. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in patient services.

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Do I Want to Be a Patient Service Representative?

A patient service representative, also known as a patient care representative, medical secretary, or medical assistant, works as a front desk customer-service agent in a medical office or hospital setting. Though state regulations can influence the extent of a patient service representative's duties, most are responsible for written and verbal correspondence, scheduling, collecting co-payments, maintaining patient charts, verifying insurance coverage, and ensuring overall patient satisfaction.

Medical assistants, one of the most popular titles among patient service representatives, usually work full-time in medical care settings, such as doctors' offices and clinics. Those that are employed by 24-hour care centers, like hospitals, may work evening, night, weekend, or on-call hours.

Job Requirements

Instead of requiring a degree, many employers provide patient service representatives with on-the-job training. In other instances, a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree may be required. Depending on the employment setting, certification may prove helpful. The following table highlights the typical requirements of a patient service representative, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; some employers or states may require a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree from an accredited institution
Degree Field Not specific; medical assisting programs may be beneficial
Certification Some employers prefer to hire certified individuals
Experience Entry level; no experience necessary
Key Skills Strong communication and interpersonal skills, ability to analyze medical charts and records, attention to detail, strong stress management skills
Computer Skills Basic knowledge of computers and use of electronic health records system
Technical Skills If applicable to job setting, ability to properly use basic medical instruments, such as blood pressure cuffs

Step 1: Attain a Certificate or Associate's Degree

Patient service representatives should have a high school diploma, but depending on the type of position, additional training may be necessary. Many technical and community colleges offer certificate or associate's degree programs in medical assisting, which provide a more advanced academic background and experience for an aspiring patient service representative.

These programs typically take 1-2 years to complete. Courses may cover advanced anatomy, medical terminology, medical records, health insurance compliance and basic office organization. Some programs include a practicum for students to get hands-on training with local clinics; this allows a student to practice new skills, gain familiarity with medical office layouts and make contacts for future employment.

Success Tip:

  • Ensure your certificate or degree comes from an accredited academic program. When choosing a postsecondary institution, it's advisable to look for one that has a program accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. This is important, because most certification agencies only accept candidates who possess a certificate or degree from an accredited academic program.

Step 2: Get Certified

Though not required in all facilities, graduates of an accredited medical assisting program (including practicum) might also consider pursuing the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification through the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). After a certification exam, CMAs must take continuing education courses in medical office administration and clerical skills to maintain their certification.

Success Tip:

  • Be sure to properly prepare yourself for your certification exam. Because certification requires the administering and passing of an exam, you'll want to become familiar with the material that will be addressed. The AAMA offers practice exams in anatomy and physiology and medical terminology and can direct you to where you can take a CMA test review course.

Step 3: Advance by Specializing

Since patients are seen in a wide variety of medical settings, patient service representatives can use their skills in dentist offices, clinics, hospitals and optometrist offices. With several years of experience in a specific medical setting, a patient service representative can advance to a higher-level management position with more responsibilities.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics