What is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and Health Information Technician?

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Are you interested in joining the frontlines of healthcare? Not sure if you want to do clinical or clerical duties? Two healthcare roles that are in demand are medical assistant and health information technician. Although they have different responsibilities, they share a common goal, the best patient outcomes possible.

Why Does Someone Get into Healthcare?

There are many reasons that someone would be interested in a healthcare role. From helping others to learning new things, and everything in between, working on the frontlines of healthcare is rewarding and no two days are ever alike.

Help Others

One of the best parts about working in healthcare is your actions help others. Whether you are comforting a patient or managing billing, you have a direct effect on the health of your patients. Although a health information technician may not work directly with patients, they make it possible for doctors, nurses and medical assistants to manage patient care, improving patient outcomes.

Passion for Medicine

Some of us are just passionate about medicine and healthcare. Are you interested in anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology? These are key subjects that you will learn during both the medical assistant and health information technician programs at a vocational school. For medical assistants, anatomy and physiology will be the cornerstone for tasks like taking vital signs, and for health information technicians these subjects will be key to managing patient charts and processing insurance claims.

Enjoy Learning New Things

There is always something new to learn or read about in medical journals. With the increase in medical technology and advancements in medicine, there is always new medical equipment to learn or techniques to master. If you enjoy continuous learning, then working in healthcare may be the right career path for you.

What Do Medical Assistants Do?

Medical assistants work in medical facilities like doctor’s offices and clinics. They manage both clerical and clinical duties. They may work directly with patients and support the office staff when needed. On a day-to-day basis, a medical assistant will do the following:

  • Great and escort patients into the facility and to exam rooms
  • Take patient vital signs, like respiratory rate and temperature
  • Record patient medical histories in electronic health records
  • Prepare and perform basic lab procedures like Phlebotomy and EKG
  • Support the office by answering the phone
  • Scheduling appointments for patients
  • Assist with billing payments and insurance processing

Medical assistants help patients prepare for exams, procedures, and treatments, as well as help patients stay comfortable during their visit. Medical assistants are a liaison between patients and medical staff because they work directly with patients to keep them connected with the medical staff.

What Does a Health Information Technician Do?

Health information technicians manage healthcare data. From transcribing doctor’s notes to overseeing electronic databases, they stay organized so that the records are easily accessible and secure. Their responsibilities include:

Complete and Accurate Health Records

Health information technicians work with clinical staff to ensure documentation is accurate. Medical errors can be catastrophic and should be minimized as much as possible. Further, some insurance claims are rejected for inaccurate coding. This can lead to reimbursement delays and medical errors. Accuracy is crucial for health information technician duties.

Data Collection, Transcription and Entry

Medical appointments may not allow for all pertinent data to be collected. The uninsured patient, for example, may not be able to provide medical or insurance details before being treated. Health information technicians follow up with patients and their providers to collect and manage insurance claims to get reimbursements.

Medical Billing and Coding

Medical codes are short, alphanumeric sequences that describe medical treatments and services. By converting pages of data into numerical data, health information technicians reduce the amount of information insurance providers must process while making data easier to access and simpler to share. The most common medical coding protocols healthcare professionals use include ICD-10, CPT and HCPCS.

Organize Data in Clinical Databases

A clinical database is a collection of health information from patient demographics and vital signs to medical histories and allergies. Healthcare professionals access this database with permission to search for data related to a person or parameter.

By making the right queries, healthcare professionals can access information in the ways that benefit them most. Doctors, for example, can see how many patients in their practices have had vaccines, while medical billers can see which patients have late payments. Data helps government agencies to better understand patient populations and create budgets. Public health officials use them to track disease outbreaks like COVID-19.

Data Security

Though challenging, electronic health records has improved patient care by making data more accessible. Greater accessibility, however, leaves data vulnerable and requires precautions against malicious access to confidential data. Health information technicians protect sensitive data by validating requests for information and implementing security protocols.

How to Become a Medical Assistant or Health Information Technician?

Both roles within healthcare can be accomplished by attending a vocational program. Vocational programs allow students to graduate with a degree or diploma in less than a year. With a quick program, graduates won’t stay out of the workforce long. They will get the knowledge and skills needed and the important experience that lab work and externships offer, to prepare for the first day as a medical assistant or health information technician.

What is the Difference Between a Medical Assistant and Health Information Technician?

There are many similarities between medical assistants and health information technicians. They both work within a medical team, manage clerical duties, and support doctors and nurses. Plus, the length of each vocational program is similar with a full-time student completing the program within as little as 8 months. Both roles can be completed in less time than a 2- year or 4-year college. This is achieved by condensing coursework into only vital information that will directly help graduates during their daily work schedule. No art history electives to create well-rounded students, just the important information to prepare for an entry-level position in healthcare.

However, there are some differences between medical assistants and health information technicians. These differences include a unique coursework and siloed responsibilities.

Unique Coursework

Although both roles will learn about anatomy and physiology, the medical assistant will need to know the practical applications of what the body is made of and how it works. For a health information technician, it is more important for them to know terminology so they can manage records, code insurance billing, and get office reimbursements. Health Information Technicians will focus more on medical coding and electronic health records. Medical assistants will need to be aware of healthcare codes, but health information technicians will use them on a day-to-day basis with insurance claims and records management.

Some of the procedures will be unique to medical assistant curriculum including phlebotomy and EKG administration. During a medical assistant program, students will learn how to administer these procedures, supporting physician’s and allowing them to make better diagnosis and treatment decisions.


The biggest difference between medical assistants and health information technicians is the contact they have with patients. Most health information technicians will not come in physical contact with patients, rather they will talk to them by email and on the phone. On the other hand, medical assistants are at the center of the patient experience within a healthcare facility. They may be the first person a patient sees, the person a patient receives the most information from and spends the most time with.

Medical assistants are also responsible for maintaining supplies and equipment within the facility. Health information technicians may order supplies and request equipment repairs, but medical assistants play a key role in keeping the medical facility running smoothly.

Final Thoughts

Are you interested in a clinical role within healthcare or want to be more hands-off with patients? Either way, if you have eight months to dedicate to a vocational program, you can start a new career as a medical assistant or health information technician. Consider your options and learn more about ATA College today. Start your new career and secure your future with ATA College.

Medical Assistant Diploma

The Medical Assistant program is designed to teach you the administrative and clinical skills necessary to work in both back and front office settings of a doctor’s office or similar setting.

After completing the diploma program at this El Cajon | San Diego Medical Assistant School, you have the option to continue in the Medical Assistant, Associate of Applied Science program. The associate degree can be completed in an additional 6 months and contains general education courses, along with advanced medical assisting courses and classes in electrocardiography and phlebotomy.

Health Information Technician Diploma

After completing the 8-month diploma program at our El Cajon | San Diego Health Information Technician School, you have the option to continue in the Health Information Technician (HIT), Associate of Applied Science program. The associate degree can be completed in an additional 6 months and contains general education courses, along with advanced courses in billing and coding.

Contact us today to learn more about medical assisting or health information technician career opportunities offered at ATA College.

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