A Guide to Healthcare Administration: What You Need to Know

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By DeVry University

January 19, 2023
10 min read

Healthcare administration is a broad occupational category overseeing the management, supervision and administrative tasks of a variety of healthcare operations. In today’s dynamic and complex healthcare delivery environment, individuals with varying degrees of education and training provide a wide variety of administrative services in settings like physicians’ offices and hospitals, as well as nursing, rehabilitation and outpatient facilities.

What is Healthcare Administration?

Put very simply, healthcare administration is the business side of healthcare delivered in a primary (seeing the doctor for an illness, injury or screening), secondary (seeing a specialist, such as an oncologist or cardiologist) or tertiary (in a hospital) care environment.

Patients who visit a physician’s office or emergency department or are admitted to a hospital or rehabilitation facility see a variety of healthcare providers. While administrators may have limited interaction with patients, most work behind the scenes to ensure efficient delivery of services, compliance with industry standards and government regulations and smooth daily business operations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2021 there were roughly 480,700 medical and health services managers (another name for healthcare administrators) working in the United States.

Education and Requirements

Healthcare administrators typically need a bachelor’s degree for roles in medical office supervision, patient accounting and billing, managed care coordination and provider network management, but master’s degrees are also common and preferred by many employers, according to the BLS. Education typically consists of business-related coursework combined with courses in health sciences-related topics like medical terminology, hospital organization and health information systems.

Career Path Oppportunities

Career pathways in healthcare administration vary according to administrative area and type of facility or healthcare-related organization. The projected job outlook in this occupational category is quite strong. According to the BLS, employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 28% on a national level through the decade ending in 20311, with 56,600 job openings for medical and health services managers projected each year.  

A partial list of healthcare management careers you might prepare to pursue includes:

  • Administrative Services Manager: These managers ensure that resources are being properly allocated throughout a care facility by overseeing other administrative staff to coordinate background tasks like recordkeeping and facility monitoring.
  • Regulatory Affairs Manager: Regulatory affairs managers are critical in this highly regulated industry. They work to guarantee that regulations are being met at every level and are responsible for interacting with government officials and inspectors when they arrive at the site.
  • Compliance Manager: Compliance managers ensure that all billing and record-keeping elements meet government regulations. They also work with cyber security specialists to make the organization’s data systems secure and provide briefings on the proper transfer of information.
  • Medical and Health Services Manager: These administrative managers are in charge of planning, directing and coordinating the performance of medical services. Depending on the size of the care facility, they may be responsible for a specific department or the entire facility.

Essential Skills

According to the employment website Indeed, essential skills used in healthcare administration include:

  • Business Administration: This skill involves your ability to use business acumen, strategic planning and management skills to manage the daily operations of a healthcare facility, or a department within a large facility or system. You may be responsible for ensuring the facility or department reaches productivity and financial goals, and may coordinate activities to ensure competitiveness with other facilities in your area.
  • Budgeting: Budgeting involves planning, allocating and managing resources based on available funds. As an administrator, your abilities in this area can have a considerable effect on your facility’s bottom line. Budgeting for things like new personnel, equipment or repairs will require you to have a clear understanding of all the costs associated with your facility or department’s operations, and how new costs will impact its profitability. 
  • Data Analysis: Strong data analysis skills will enable you to gather, manipulate and present data to help management make well-informed decisions. Skills in this area can help you store and protect the patient information that is vital to quality healthcare delivery.
  • Quality Assurance: Hospitals and other healthcare facilities and systems typically set quality assurance standards and conduct regular evaluations to see how each department measures up to those standards. Effective healthcare administrators may be involved in drafting these standards, evaluating performance and creating a culture of accountability within their administrative area.  

Healthcare administrators also need to make sure the facilities they manage abide by rules set by established regulatory or accreditation bodies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Joint Commission.

To be effective, a healthcare administrator should also demonstrate soft skills, like these identified by LinkedIn:

  • Communication: Strong communication skills, in both verbal and written form, are essential to maintain high standards and an atmosphere of mutual respect when communicating with patients, staff, medical professionals and others. Discretion is particularly important in the healthcare environment to maintain compliance with health information privacy regulations. 
  • Planning and Time Management: Robust skills in time management and planning are essential in this demanding environment, where administrators are expected to be talented multi-taskers capable of handling deadlines and keeping things organized. 
  • Problem Solving: Managing conflicts, errors, mix-ups and other things that may go wrong requires managers to have excellent problem-solving skills. Good administrators can anticipate problems before they occur, and then use creativity and efficiency to resolve issues and get things back on track.

Regulations and Responsibilities

Healthcare administrators are required to be well-versed in the federal and state regulations enacted to protect the safety and privacy of patients in all healthcare settings. Some major federal regulations include the following:

Occupational Safety and Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, widely known as OSHA, was enacted by Congress in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, education and assistance. Protocols cover topics like safety gear, standards for filling and labeling, the safest ways to clean and store products and equipment and a multitude of other topics affecting the workplace and workers.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a healthcare-specific regulation enacted in 1996 to create standards to ensure the protection of patient information, known as protected health information, or PHI. HIPAA mandates specific regulations concerning the disclosure of PHI and the security of digital filing and data transferring practices.

Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Stark Law

These interrelated regulations were enacted in 1989 and are intended to reduce the risk of abuse and unethical conduct by healthcare providers. 

Stark’s Law generally prohibits physicians from referring their Medicare and Medicaid patients to facilities in which they or their families have an ownership stake

The AKS is a federal law intended to protect patients and eliminate abuse and fraud from federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among others. The law makes it a crime to exchange a gift or anything of value with the intent to gain something, as in a healthcare provider accepting a payment or service to solicit Medicare or another federal program.

Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act

Passed in 1986, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) ensures that healthcare providers put the health and safety of others over their own gain. EMTALA requires medical centers to stabilize and treat those who come into their emergency rooms regardless of the patient’s financial standing or insurance status. The intent is to prevent hospital and health system emergency departments from denying people access to critical care, even if those patients can’t afford the treatment.

Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA) of 2005 ensures optimal patient safety in medical facilities. PSQIA provides a voluntary and confidential reporting system that allows anyone to report concerns or potential hazards that could affect patients’ safety. PSQIA allows people to come forward with their concerns without fear of repercussions or backlash like denied care, withheld promotions or increased charges.

FAQs


What do healthcare administrators actually do?

Healthcare administrators oversee the daily administrative operations of healthcare facilities like hospitals, medical practices, surgery centers, nursing and rehabilitation facilities and others. According to BLS, the typical duties of medical and health services managers may include:

  • Improving quality and efficiency in healthcare services
  • Developing goals and objectives across departments
  • Ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations
  • Creating schedules for staff
  • Managing patient fees, billing and other finances
  • Preparing departmental budgets to keep spending within prescribed funding limits
  • Communicating between the medical staff and department heads


Where do healthcare administrators work?

Healthcare administrators work in a broad range of settings where patient care services are planned, delivered, regulated or paid for. This may include:

  • Hospitals and medical centers
  • Outpatient surgery centers
  • Physician’s offices
  • Nursing and retirement homes
  • Managed care facilities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Clinics, mental health facilities


Do I need to be licensed or certified to be a healthcare administrator?

The answer to this question depends on what type of healthcare setting you plan to work in and where. The BLS explains it this way:

  • All states require licensure for nursing home administrators, but additional requirements vary by state.
  • In most states, nursing home administrators must have a bachelor’s degree, complete a state-approved training program and pass a national licensing exam in order to work.
  • Some states also require applicants to pass an additional state-specific exam and may require you to have previous work experience in a healthcare facility.
  • Some states may require licensure for assisted-living facility administrators.
  • The National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards has more information on specific, state-by-state licensing requirements.
  • While a license is typically not required for other medical and health services management roles, some positions may require candidates to have a registered nurse or social worker license.

Although certification is not always required, some managers may choose to pursue certifications through the following organizations: 



What is the difference between a healthcare administrator and healthcare manager?

Healthcare administrators and healthcare managers work in the same healthcare settings, and the BLS groups the two together statistically under the occupational category of Medical and Health Services Managers. According to Indeed, however, they differ in a few areas. 

  • Healthcare administration revolves more around the medical and administrative professionals within a healthcare organization. Healthcare administrators are likely to perform human resources-related duties such as hiring, training and scheduling staff. In some organizations they may also manage finances, services and treatments offered to patients and patient medical records.
  • Healthcare management is a career path that involves managing a healthcare organization’s overall business operations to make sure it runs efficiently and smoothly. This may include budgets, finances and keeping the organization’s buildings and grounds in good repair.


How much experience will I need to become a healthcare administrator?

According to BLS, many employers require prospective managers and administrators to have some previous work experience in an administrative or clinical capacity. Examples of this kind of experience may be as a registered nurse, a medical records and health information technician, administrative assistant or financial clerk.

Healthcare Administrators: Behind the Scenes and In Demand

Healthcare administration is a broad, multi-faceted and fast-growing field. According to the BLS, job growth in this occupational category is strong.1 If you’re interested in working in the healthcare field but prefer not to work directly with patients, you may want to find out more about educational opportunities that can prepare you to pursue a career in healthcare administration.

Pursue Your Career in Healthcare Administration at DeVry

Start working toward a career in healthcare administration with an Online Graduate Certificate in Health Services Management. Our 100% online program provides hands-on learning from knowledgeable faculty in health services systems, health rights and responsibilities, health services finances and much more. 

If you choose to pursue your master’s degree with us, qualifying credits earned in your certificate program may be transferable to our Master of Business Administration or Master of Public Administration program.2 Classes start every 8 weeks.

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1Growth projected on a national level. Local growth will vary by location. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-1

2At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied. Number of credits and courses vary by program. See catalog for complete details.

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