Schools Training

Anchors of Patient Care Departments

17 JUN 2013
Career Path : Healthcare

Nursing unit clerks fill an important role in a hospital or other healthcare institution. As doctor shortages put a greater strain on the overall system, nurse practitioners are assuming greater responsibility, even opening their own clinics in over 25 Ontario locations. Within a given facility, there may be a team of physicians, residents, physiotherapists, dieticians, pharmacists, social workers, nurse aides and unit clerks working together. Nursing unit clerks, originally known as ward clerks, act as the anchor of patient care departments.


Evolution of the Role

The unit clerk position was first created during World War II to relieve overworked nursing staff of many of the administrative duties associated with providing patient care. They focus on the non-clinical tasks of the department, coordinating services within and between departments by delivering and communicating the doctors’ orders. It requires juggling many tasks at once, taking the initiative to effectively interact with patients and visitors, often under pressure and with a minimum of supervision. People getting into this profession should be comfortable working in sometimes stressful environments with many moving parts, like being in the middle of a storm.


Unit clerks essentially manage an entire ward, taking care of paperwork, answering phones, processing doctor’s orders, and always knowing where patients are located so visitors may be accurately directed to their rooms. Tasks include ordering and maintaining the supply inventory, transferring patient data onto medical charts and records, and preparing and managing files. There are clerical duties and an increasing amount of information technology but it is far from clerk duties in an office or medical records department. There is significant responsibility for patients’ well being, the closest thing to patient care without technical training.


The role requires strong organization, teamwork, keyboarding and communication skills and the ethical character to maintain patient confidentiality, respectability and discretion. Unit clerks are the healthcare communication hub and responsible for scheduling diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments. Nursing unit clerk courses are intensive combinations of classroom and lab instruction, culminating in a practical learning experience at a hospital. Course work will typically include administrative knowledge, medical terminology, hospital procedures and insurance coding. Unit clerks may need to know medical laws and regulations, particularly regarding the dissemination of patient information.


Comparing to Medical Transcriptionists

Although they sometimes will be responsible for transferring patient data to permanent records their duties differ from that of a medical transcriptionist. The latter focuses exclusively on typing a physician’s diagnosis for patient records, based on audio files that the doctor records after a patient visit. These roles are increasingly being outsourced and handled by independent and flexible professionals from home offices. After successfully completing medical transcriptionist courses, they are able to interpret and transcribe medical dictation made from audio recorders and sometimes voice recognition software. As electronic records become increasingly a healthcare priority, these positions may become more interconnected.

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