In a time of rapid change in the healthcare system, it’s no surprise that hospitals across the country are examining new patient care delivery approaches. In many cases, business professionals with management experience are driving innovation. According to experts at the Harvard Business School (HBS), healthcare managers are the “missing link” when it comes to the debate surrounding healthcare reform. The skills and ideas that healthcare managers bring to the table provide a fresh approach with significant patient benefits.
The connection between patient care and management practice is the subject of a growing body of research. Physician Richard M. J. Bohmer, an HBS faculty member for 18 years, discussed his research into this area in an interview about his book, Designing Care: Aligning the Nature and Management of Health Care. He explained that management professionals have the specialized training to improve hospitals and other healthcare organizations. “Some of the most important innovations are not technologic — they are in the way we organize care delivery,” said Bohmer.
Though the focus of healthcare reform has largely been on policy, the way hospitals operate and manage services is an important part of facilitating changes that will lead to improved patient care. Hospital managers, unlike most policymakers, are directly involved in the healthcare system. They can manage “actual care rather than the context in which the care takes place,” Bohmer says. “Over the past 10 to 15 years the object of management attention has widened [from focusing solely on the institution] to include the care itself.”
Historically, hospitals have concentrated on acquiring technology and skilled physicians instead of designing unique care processes for patient groups. They left healthcare delivery to physicians who focused on “the resources clinicians use as they provide care and on the hotel functions of inpatient institutions.” In short, there was a clear separation between healthcare management and clinical practice.
Now, managers are combining business expertise with an understanding of the healthcare system to increase both efficiency and effectiveness. With rapid innovation and reform, the organization and delivery of care have become central to the management of hospitals and other organizations. This is because both patients and the federal government expect results that only skilled management professionals can deliver.
It is clear that healthcare managers and administrators have become a vital part of successful healthcare institutions. They attend to the business side of healthcare, working with every department to keep things running smoothly. Helen McKinnon, vice president of support services at Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC), emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of healthcare management roles: “Many areas report to me. One of them is facility and construction services, as well as nutrition services, pharmacy services and imaging. I work with the chaplain, the library staff and others. There [are] a lot of different support areas within the infrastructure to make sure we deliver what we have to for patient care.”
In addition to working on budgets and developing new projects, hospital managers solve problems as they arise. They can do this because they have a business background that allows them to view the healthcare system through a logistical lens that emphasizes process and procedure improvements. As McKinnon puts it, “I meet with the clinical staff almost every eight hours. It’s a constant flow of communication, of testing, of getting the test results back. If any one of those systems go down, we always have to have the ability to respond to that.” This requires an understanding of “organizational theory, contemporary health issues, finance management, analytical tools and leadership concepts.”
Healthcare managers work in settings like hospitals, medical practices, clinics and community health organizations. Although responsibilities vary widely depending on the size and type of institution, all healthcare managers work to make sure patients receive high-quality services in an efficient way. This can mean directing processes involved in therapy, nursing, surgery, recovery and more. On the administrative side, healthcare managers gather data related to facilities and finances, analyze it, and then present their findings to relevant stakeholders. Since healthcare industry regulations are constantly changing, healthcare managers must make sure their organizations are compliant. This requires an in-depth understanding of the latest healthcare news and policies.
The noticeable shift from a pay-for-procedure model to pay-for-performance is how hospitals across the country are working to improve patient care while decreasing costs. In addition, as aging baby boomers require more medical care, many institutions are expanding operations and increasing the number of beds. For example, more than 14 percent of the population in Bangor, Maine, is made up of individuals who are age 65 or older. As a result, many hospitals have undertaken large-scale modernization projects that will add much-needed space to the hundreds of beds they already have. With new surgical suites, cardiovascular facilities and critical care units, hospitals will be better equipped to deal with changing demographics and increased demand for care.
Demographic changes combined with a growing need for quality healthcare and business efficiency are leading to an increased demand for qualified healthcare managers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical and health services managers is expected to increase by 22 percent through the year 2022, a rate that is much faster than the national average for job growth. From a compensation perspective, it’s clear that healthcare systems understand the important role well-educated and trained managers play. The average salary was $84,270 in 2010, with top earners bringing in more than $144,880 per year.
Healthcare managers are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree. Those who wish to remain competitive in this fast-paced healthcare industry would be well-advised to earn a graduate degree. An MBA with a concentration in healthcare management is one way to be successful.
The combination of business and healthcare systems coursework helps graduates become leaders who can motivate others, think critically and solve problems. Business programs with a focus on management practices help prepare students for career success in the healthcare sector. This makes an MBA a valuable credential. Coursework related to healthcare economics, financial management, quality management and law empowers professionals with the skills and background knowledge required to keep pace with innovation. As healthcare delivery continues to change, healthcare managers and administrators will continue to play a key role in shaping the systems and processes of tomorrow.
For those interested in a healthcare management career, an online degree from Husson University is an ideal place to start. The Master of Business Administration program offers a concentration that provides a specialized education for business professionals looking to make their mark on the changing healthcare system. Students benefit from advanced business education and dedicated coursework that prepares them for leadership roles in hospitals and other health services organizations. As McKinnon puts it, “Husson University has been on the leading edge for many years. They understand that there is a growing need for healthcare education.” To learn more, click here.