As the title implies, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or ultrasound technologists assume diagnostic responsibilities as related to assessing sonographic images. Sonographers are highly skilled professionals who are proficient at using specialized ultrasound medical equipment and interpreting the images produced. They must use professional judgment when determining the images needed and while interpreting results. The Medical Assistant does limited clinical duties, as directed by physicians and other healthcare professionals, and a variety of administrative duties. It is a more generalized profession than ultrasound technology.
Typical Duties of the Sonographer
A Diagnostic Medical Sonographer uses medical equipment that produces high frequency sound waves to create visual images of the body’s organs, tissues and systems. Using a transducer that sends regular high frequency sound waves into the body, the ultrasound technologist moves it around the skin over the internal structures to be assessed. The sound waves bounce off the tissues, organs and systems, and the computerized medical equipment constructs an image of the internal structures.
To ensure quality images are produced, the sonographer does the following work activities during a normal shift:
- Create, review and update patient’s medical history
- Verify ultrasound equipment is working properly, performing routine tests and maintenance activities
- Input data into imaging software systems and process relevant information
- Assist patients with getting on and off the imaging table and position the patient’s body as needed to obtain the ideal images
- Determine the type and number of images needed for ideal diagnostic results
- Assess images, looking for signs of physical disorders or diseases, and document technical findings for transmission to physicians
- Maintain a variety of medical records and required forms, both medical and legal
- Work with a variety of healthcare professionals, including physicians, radiologists, registered nurses, patient aides and numerous other people
- Regularly interact with department personnel
Typical Duties of the Medical Assistant
A Medical Assistant performs a wide range of duties under a physician’s direction. The job responsibilities may include office work like insurance billing and clinical work like drawing blood. The range of duties assigned is often dependent on the size of the medical office or the type of medical facility where the Medical Assistant works. The typical daily tasks include the following:
- Review medical history with the patient and ask patient for description of main reason for medical office visit
- Record, update and maintain patient information, including the medical history and medical test results
- Escort patients to medical examination rooms, take vital signs and instruct patient on preparing for the physician’s exam
- Maintain patient examination and treatment rooms and treatment room instruments, ensuring everything is kept clean and orderly
- Prepare medications and administer as required by physician, including giving shots
- Collect laboratory specimens as directed by physician, including blood, urine and tissue and ensure specimens are properly stored and documented
- Assist physician in examination room
- Operate routine diagnostic medical equipment like an electrocardiogram machine or x-ray equipment
- Call pharmacies convey prescription drug orders or authorize refills
- Deliver physician instructions to patients, plan diets, explain medical treatments and necessary advance preparations, and review medications and possible side effects
- Perform medical office duties like answering the phone, scheduling appointments, completing patient check-in procedures, completing insurance forms and other general duties
- Track and manage medical supplies inventory
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers earn twice as much as Medical Assistants. This is according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2012 occupational wages survey. Sonographers earned an average annual wage of $66,360 or $31.90 per hour.
During the same time period, Medical Assistants earned an average annual wage of $30,550 or $14.69 per hour. The average annual wage scale for ultrasound technologists was $44,990 to $91,070. For Medical Assistants it was $21,080 to $41,570.
Comparing Training Requirements
Two of the reasons for the salary differential include the fact that Diagnostic Medical Sonographers are trained at a higher skills level because they do diagnostic work, and they must use judgment concerning the number and type of images produced. Most employers now require that sonographers complete a sonography program at a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and earn ARDMS registration.
According to the American Job Center Network O*Net Online, 47 percent of sonographers have an Associate’s degree, 17 percent have a Bachelor’s degree, and 19 percent have some college but no degree. Approximately 72 percent of Medical Assistants have some college and no degree, 18 percent have an Associate’s degree, and 10 percent have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers may find employment in a variety of healthcare facilities that include hospitals, clinics, physician offices and mobile units. A medical assistant is likely to find employment in medical offices and clinics, or ambulatory care facilities.