In the ever-changing field of health care, new roles, such as the healthcare administrator, have begun to take prominence in medical institution settings. While some believe that any role in health care deals directly with medical procedures or patient care, the role of the healthcare administrator encompasses a much wider range of duties and positions.
A Brief History of Healthcare Administration
Up until the late 1800s, little patient support was offered for the sick by medical institutions, mainly because there was very little funding or knowledge of professional medical treatment. When innovations in medicine began in the early 20th century, such as anesthesia, modern medical tools and more procedurally-advanced surgery, medical institutions began to search for ways to consolidate services to acute care patients. Hospitals started accepting sick patients, armed with advanced tools and new knowledge of patient care. From 1875 to 1925, the number of hospitals in America alone grew from around 170 to 7,000.
Prior to 1920, physicians actually worked without pay, and the cost to employ nursing staff was relatively low. But as the number of hospitals grew, and staff needs expanded, it became apparent that there should be a team of individuals who managed and delegated financial and administrative duties hospitals were now requiring. While the requirements for these types of administrative roles were being defined, a necessity existed for some form of training program to prepare individuals who were to manage and assume administrative responsibilities. And with that, the first "health systems management program" began in 1934, awarding the first master's degree in healthcare administration. Originally called an "HA," or "Hospital Administration," the degree has predominantly evolved into today's HCA degree.
Health Care Administration Today
Today, Healthcare Administration is a crucial part of the healthcare field. According to the AHA (American Hospital Association), there are 5,724 registered hospitals in the United States, equaling 924,333 staffed beds. A growing number of patients mean an increasing demand for staff, and the administrative tasks involved with managing both are necessary to the overall functionality of the institution.
Health Care Administration Roles and Responsibilities
History has shown a clear necessity for the healthcare administrator, and the job itself requires a diverse set of job responsibilities. Through a variety of health care systems, administrators lead and manage staff and work with administrative personnel to assure the organization runs smoothly operationally, legally, and professionally. Administrators work as either generalists (manage entire facilities) or specialists (operate a specific department, such as human resources or accounting).
But what do these individuals do on a day-to-day basis? Healthcare administrators or managers find employment in a variety of health care settings, including:
- Doctor's offices
- Call centers
- Research institutes
- Specialized clinics
- Outpatient facilities
- Residential care groups
- Medical record keeping facilities
The tasks performed within these organizations are extensive and varied and require a specialized knowledge within a chosen department. Administrator's duties can consist of:
- The monitoring and ordering of equipment and supply needs. Whether in a hospital setting or private clinic, from the simplest items such as rubber gloves to the complicated maintenance of radiology equipment, the upkeep of daily supply needs is crucial to the flow of the organization.
- The coordination and organization of daily tasks required of an organization, including the evaluation of staffing, employee schedules, and human resources tasks, such as employee relations and payroll.
- Record maintenance and information sharing. Every patient's care must be carefully documented, and each employee's file must be properly maintained either in hard copy or electronically.
- Taking charge of compliance with the numerous laws and regulations that govern health system operations. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) invoked stringent guidelines regarding health insurance, patient billing, patient confidentiality and health insurance fraud. Adhering to these rules is a large portion of an administrator's responsibility. Any medical institution is certainly susceptible to lawsuits, and handling these types of legal claims, as well as dealing with labor and employment laws. These are some of the tasks best suited for a healthcare administrator.
- Educating staff and patients on new policies, such as the introduction of Obamacare, which affects American health insurance.
Healthcare Administrator's Employment Opportunities
The opportunities for a healthcare administrator or manager are plentiful, and can include patient or employee care and/or operations of a health organization. Many departments are available, and with such an array of career options, there truly is an avenue for each administrator. In addition to the more well-known positions, such as CFO or Director of Human Resources, some lesser-known but equally important positions include but are not limited to those listed below.
In this career path, nursing administrators oversee nursing staff through daily operations, including schedule creation and staff relations within the department. This position could also include supply maintenance for the nursing staff.
In the hospice setting, administrators are responsible for the administrative duties including budget, staff management, legal adherence in a setting in which care is provided for the terminally ill and their families.
Director of Fund-Raising and Development
Many medical institutions operate under a non-profit agenda, and the duties of an administrative position include creating a plan for fundraising as well as the execution of the plan. While fundraising is key, the Director of Development may also take the lead on reaching out to various charities for partnership opportunities, building relationships with the community involved, and soliciting private donors.
Director of Hospital Marketing
While marketing efforts can include media relations and advertising efforts, the Director of Hospital Marketing can also work to identify potential patients or new revenue streams. In addition, a Director of Hospital Marketing can work to generate profitable pricing strategies.
Mental Health Facility Administrator
Whether involved in a facility or in the supervision of outpatient care, this type of healthcare administrator concentrates on those affected by both mental health or substance abuse issues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, governs this type of work and proposes policies and guidelines to improve the quality of care and accessibility of prevention, rehabilitative and treatment services.
Public Health Department Coordinator
This department concentrates on health issues pertaining to the health of the general public, including food inspection, communicable disease testing and research and vaccination requirements, to name a few. The coordinator for this type of department would deal with matters of public health, such as disease outbreak or food contamination, while adhering to the regulations laid forth by the U.S. government.
Director of Public Relations
Medical institutions require very specialized individuals to handle their public relations. In matters of health, lawsuits can be commonplace and dealing with individuals and the media on such issues is of utmost importance to the integrity of an institution.
Regardless of the position or the tasks involved, the role of the healthcare administrator is vital to the growth and success of a medical institution. The career opportunities for an individual with a degree in Healthcare Administration are varied and in demand, presenting opportunities for many in the industry of healthcare.
The Utica College Master's degree in Health Care Administration is a leadership-oriented program that prepares students for a career in health care.