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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

OT, PA, PT, MA—what’s the difference? Navigating medical titles for the best health care experience

Sep 01, 2018 01:45AM ● By Jan Weeks

In our golden years, we visit the doctor more often. He or she sends you off to someone else for tests or rehabilitation, but you may have little or no clue who. Here’s a quick rundown of the duties behind each medical title.

If you’ve had a lab test, you’ve already met your friendly neighborhood phlebotomist, who draws blood to be analyzed. You may believe they’re direct descendants of Dracula, but phlebotomists perform a vital function in health care. Blood analysis reveals developing problems or those already underway.

If you have asthma or emphysema, you’ve probably visited a respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapy also helps you regain your ability to breathe as you recover from a heart attack or stroke.

An occupational therapist (OT) teaches injured or disabled patients to use common movements throughout the day to get better sooner.

A physical therapist (PT) helps patients recover from illnesses or injuries using special equipment to work your muscles and build strength. If you’ve had rotator cuff surgery, joint replacement, a car accident, or if you’ve strained a knee in pickleball or golf, you’ve probably seen a PT.

A radiologic technologist (RT) dresses you in that cute little gown—you know, the one with the open back—so he can take x-rays or scans without interference from zippers and other closures. Radiologic techs are not to be confused with radiologists, which are medical doctors trained to read those images. That’s why you see two different charges for x-rays and scans on your insurance statement.

There’s also a new kid on the block: the medical assistant (MA). Back in the day, a nurse in a starched uniform and jaunty cap performed the job, but MAs are not nurses. They’re trained to do administrative tasks such as measuring and entering blood pressure, temperature and symptoms into your chart before the doctor comes in. Most MAs are certified and have had job-specific training in the field.

You may have also been examined by a physician’s assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP). Both practice under the supervision of a doctor. They often work in clinics, such as Marillac or in rural areas, but are becoming a familiar sight in doctors’ offices. NPs and PAs examine patients to diagnose problems and prescribe medication or therapy, but PAs have more training and may be working in a clinic while earning their medical degrees. Both are highly qualified. If problems arise that they can’t handle, a doctor is called upon to provide more specialized care.

With luck, your experience with any of the above will be limited, but it’s comforting to know they’re around to help you get the best health care you could ask for.

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