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Ethical Concerns for Medical Assistants

Medical assistants are agents of the physicians who employ them and adhere to a very similar code of ethics.

Medical assistants facing ethical issues—such as working with family members who are divided over the care for an incapacitated patient—should follow ethical guidelines such as those recommended by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). The AAMA is a professional organization that created guidelines for Medical Assistants that specifically focus on ethical and moral conduct to assist members facing such complex issues in the course of their work.

AAMA members should “strive” toward the following:

  • Provide services with full respect for human dignity
  • “Aspire to render great service” to patients
  • “Dedicated to the care and well being of patients”
  • Respect confidential information unless required or authorized to disclose in a legal manner
  • Seek to continually improve knowledge and skills
  • Participate in services aimed at improving the well-being of the community

The AAMA Creed reinforces these principles.

Lucille Keir et. al. highlight ethical questions medical assistants may find themselves involved in that range from personal behavior to upholding professional standards in difficult situations involving peers or supervisors. For example, most medical assistants will face patients who insist that they renew a prescription when they are not authorized to do so. In this case, medical assistants must refuse and remind the patients that only a physician (or in some states, physician assistant) can renew a prescription. This is a personal behavior that supports professional ethics and legal requirements. (Keir et. al., 2007)

Another situation that may be more challenging has to do with colleagues or supervisors who are engaging in unlawful behaviors, such as abusing drugs or alcohol or upcoding on insurance forms. Keir discusses the dilemmas that arise when an employee suspects but cannot prove illegal and/or unethical activity. But, as she points out, ignoring such situations can risk lives or open the practice to lawsuits. (Keir et. al., 2007)

Much of the work a medical assistant performs needs to be documented into a medical chart or various medical documents, an area Keir highlights as extremely sensitive and important. Medical records are legal documents and must be accurate and complete to protect the interests of both patients and providers. Even appointment books are considered legal documents.  In addition, medical personnel have a “public duty” to report suspected cases of abuse and violence to the proper authorities, situations that must be documented with great care. (Keir, 2007)

Anthem College Beaverton (Portland, CO) offers Medical Assistant Diploma program that helps prepare students for entry-level positions in the field. Visit our program page or call 1-866-502-2627 for more information.


“Code of Ethics.” American Association of Medical Assistants. Web, n.d.

“Few Issues for Contemplation and Discussion.” Medical Assistant Jobs/blogspot. Web. October 4, 2010.

Keir, Lucille, et. al. Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies, 6th Edition. Clifton Park, NY: Thompson Delmar Learning, 2007. Excerpt on Google Books


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