Working as a health administrator goes beyond knowing how to contain costs and direct the daily operations of medical facilities. Health administrators must have legal skills, business acumen, technical expertise, and problem-solving capabilities to set the tone for the future of healthcare.
Health administrators, including chief medical officers, healthcare executives, and health services managers, are expected to follow leadership and business competencies for the daily operations of medical centers. Organizations that include the Healthcare Leadership Alliance (HLA) and the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL) established core competencies to serve as professional guidelines for administrators. These competencies include effective communication, professionalism, and business skills.
The overarching theme is education with a focus on adaptability, change leadership, self-development, and talent development. The U.S. Department of Labor said most administrators hold masters degrees that focus on both management and healthcare, combined with business-related courses. The education could include courses in healthcare operations, medical law, and health technology and information systems.
Ultimately the goal for health administrators is to be able to facilitate fast-moving changes in the field while accommodating factors that include the aging population, staffing shortages, and changes to the nation’s health insurance system.
The following are core skills that medical professionals have noted as important for the success of health administrators:
1. Communication and Relationship Management Abilities
Good communication is an essential part of all relationships. It is no different in the role of health administrator. Every day, administrators interact with groups of people, including medical staff, patients, fellow administrators, community leaders, and vendors. Successful leaders know good communication includes the ability to effectively speak, write, and listen to articulate information and problem solve.
The HLA identified several factors that play a role in communication and relationships, including understanding public relations and facilitating dispute resolutions. Researchers have found a leading competency in developing good communication and relationships is developing integrity and trust.
“Essential levels of trust can be achieved and sustained through the embrace and consistent expression of professionalism, attitudes, and behaviors. These include integrity, accountability, motivation, altruism, empathy, and the pursuit of excellence through lifelong learning,” Dr. Michael D. Brennan said in the Journal of Translational Medicine.
2. Leadership Skills
Being a good leader is more than giving commands. It’s about the ability to effectively motivate staff to institute change. Across all sectors of business, good leaders recognize individual needs and priorities while promoting teamwork. Leadership includes decision making, strategic planning, and team-building.
The NCHL said healthcare-specific leadership is essential because it requires a focus on patient-centered care and leading high-demand professionals in a competitive marketplace. The organization said healthcare leadership should focus on three domains — transformation (stimulating a change process), execution (translating vision to performance), and people (both staff and patients).
“The health system is extraordinarily complex and more than other sectors requires building consensus among independent constituencies, many of whom have broad social and political recognition,” NCHL officials said. “Leaders who have an impact must exercise influence, consensus and coalition‐building competencies at higher levels than their counterparts in other sectors.”
3. Technical Proficiencies
In today’s quick-changing healthcare environment, it’s not enough to have a general understanding of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), electronic health records (EHRs), and computerized physician order entry (CPOE). The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly changing the way medical facilities process everything from patient medical records to equipment orders. Medical facilities have started using smart beds with sensors that can detect the presence of a patient. Home health agencies can monitor patient vital signs via wireless signals.
Large medical facilities are known to be behind in technology innovations. At the same time, healthcare leaders are increasingly expected to deliver innovation in patient care. Leaders who can modernize healthcare delivery systems by utilizing advances such as 3D printing and Internet-connected services are able to bring their facilities into the 21st century, researchers said.
4. Business Acumen
In addition to patient care, health administration includes strategic planning, human resources operations, staffing, and policy reform. Healthcare is a billion-dollar industry that incorporates economics, marketing, and law.
An essential component of business acumen is understanding the business side of healthcare. That includes basic health administration (including government regulations and patient privacy), financials (such as delivering quality healthcare within a budget), and clinical quality improvements (including improving daily operations and meeting business goals). Overall, it is about creating a “vision and strategy” for the medical provider, said Russell Branzell, CEO of the Fort Collins, Colo.-based Colorado Health Medical Group.
The Princeton Review describes health administrators as “highly educated individuals” responsible for all of the business and policy decisions at medical facilities. A bachelor’s degree only opens doors at an entry level. A master’s degree can be required for a C-suite office. Master’s degree students who start out with a strong foundation in healthcare and business must work their way up the corporate ladder. MHA programs include industry-specific curriculums with courses that focus on healthcare regulations and policy to focus on the business side of healthcare.
Maryville University’s online Master of Health Administration Degree Program
Maryville University’s MHA degree program prepares business leaders and medical professionals for challenging positions in health administration. The 100 percent online program allows professionals to continue working while pursuing an advanced degree. The school offers four academic concentrations so professionals can determine how to direct their education and career goals. The concentrations are Data Management, Healthcare Strategies, Population Management, Senior Services, and a General MHA.