When most of us hear the word “hospital” we think of doctors and nurses, working long hours to keep their patients alive. What we tend not to notice is the administrative nightmare inherent in providing specialized care to hundreds of patients with unique needs. While it might not look too different from any business administration role at first glance, healthcare administration has a group of unique challenges that became readily apparent from the moment that I started looking into the field.
Realistically, most people that are going to go and earn a Master’s in health administration are there to get a job in management at a major healthcare institution. That means that MHA programs tend to focus on management and leadership skills as well as epidemiological studies and more general administrative tasks. While those positions pay the most, it often leaves the larger picture in the dark.
There are a huge variety of administrative positions from low end clerks to highly paid administrative directors, but the underlying role of all administrative work is ensuring that the right people are talking to each other to keep everything running in an orderly fashion in what would otherwise be a bureaucratic nightmare. On the lower end of the pay scale that means collecting, filing, and submitting information from other staff members, patients, and financial institutions to each other, but as you start looking further up the ranks these responsibilities intertwine with management concerns.
Healthcare administrators need to keep track of everything that happens to each patient from the moment that they’re admitted until they are discharged. Because medical facilities and doctors are vulnerable to legal suits it’s up to administrators to keep records to show exactly what happened to each patient. This isn’t just to protect medical professionals, it also serves to monitor doctors and nurses and ensure that they’re doing their jobs well.
Administrators are stuck with the unglamorous task of figuring out how much of which resources will be required in the future. Then they need to arrange for acquiring those while spending the least amount of money possible while still providing top-level care to patients. Unlike handling logistics at the average business getting this wrong means can have pretty severe consequences for patients and can damage the credibility of the doctors.
Hospital billing is a unique and terrifying field all on its own. Handling insurance claims and haranguing injured, sick, grieving, or stressed people for money to pay for services that they may or may not have had much control over ordering (see the bit about tracking) requires an immense amount of patience, sensitivity, and organization.