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What is Healthcare Administration?

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In the changing field of health care, new roles – such as the health care 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 health care administrator encompasses a wide range of duties and positions.

Health Care Administration

A Brief History of Health Care Administration

Until the late 1800s, little patient support was offered for the sick by medical institutions, mainly due to limited 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 for acute care patients. Armed with advanced tools and new knowledge of patient care, hospitals started accepting sick patients. From 1875 to 1925, the number of U.S. hospitals grew from 170 to 7,000.1

Prior to 1920, physicians worked without pay, and the cost of employing nursing staff was relatively low.2 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 the financial and health care administrative duties that hospitals were now requiring. While the requirements for administrative roles were being defined, a necessity existed for some form of training program to prepare individuals to manage and assume managerial responsibilities. 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, health care administration is a crucial part of the health care field. According to the American Hospital Association’s 2022 annual report, there are 6,093 registered hospitals in the United States, equaling 920,531 staffed beds.3 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 necessity for the health care administrator, and the job itself requires a diverse set of job responsibilities. The importance of patient safety in healthcare remains crucial. Individuals may wonder, what exactly is the definition of a healthcare administrator? Through a variety of health care systems, healthcare administrators lead and manage staff and work with administrative personnel to ensure the organization runs smoothly operationally, legally, and professionally. Health care administrators work as 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? Health care administrators or patient safety managers find employment in a variety of health care settings, including:

  • Doctor’s offices
  • Hospitals
  • Call centers
  • Laboratories
  • 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 specialized knowledge within a chosen department. A health care administrator’s duties can consist of:

  • The monitoring and ordering of equipment and supply needs. Whether in a hospital setting or private clinic, daily upkeep is crucial to the organization’s flow, from keeping stock of essential supplies like gloves to intricate maintenance of radiology equipment.
  • The coordination and organization of daily tasks required of an organization, including evaluating staffing, employee schedules, and human resources tasks, such as employee relations and payroll.
  • Record maintenance and information sharing. Patient safety in health care administration ensures that every patient’s care is carefully documented, and administrators must adequately maintain each employee’s file 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 (HPAA) invoked stringent guidelines regarding health insurance, patient billing, patient confidentiality, and health insurance fraud.4 Adhering to these rules is a large portion of an administrator’s responsibility. Medical institutions must be prepared for different types of legal claims, as well as dealing with labor and employment laws. These are some of the tasks best suited for a health care administrator.
  • Educating staff and patients on new policies, such as the Affordable Care Act, which affects U.S. health care and health insurance.

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Health Care Administrator’s Employment Opportunities

The opportunities for a health care 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 well-known positions, such as CFO or director of human resources, some lesser-known but equally important roles are listed below.

Nursing Administrator

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.

Hospice Administrator

In the hospice setting, administrators are responsible for the administrative duties, including a budget, staff management, and legal adherence in a setting in which care is provided for terminally ill people and their families.

Director of Fund-Raising and Development

Many medical institutions operate as a non-profit, and the duties of an administrative position include creating a plan for fundraising as well as the execution of the plan. While fundraising is vital, the director of development may also take the lead in 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 the supervision of outpatient care, this type of health care administrator concentrates on those affected by mental health and 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.5

Public Health Department Coordinator

This department concentrates on health issues pertaining to the general public’s health, including food inspection, infectious disease testing, and research and vaccination requirements, to name a few. The coordinator for this type of department would address public health matters, such as disease outbreaks 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, a health care administrator is vital to the growth and success of a medical institution. The career opportunities for an individual with a degree in Health Care Administration are varied and in demand, presenting opportunities for many in the industry of healthcare.

The Utica University Master of Healthcare Administration is a leadership-oriented program that prepares students for a career in health care.



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