Health care management is a specialized sub-field of a business degree that focuses on hospitals, treatment centers and associated regulatory institutions. In the short term, health care management graduates are likely to see increased demand for their expertise as President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is implemented in 2014. Successful execution of the ACA will heavily depend on people who understand both, the legalistic and medical/technical aspects of health care. Health care management differs from management in other business or public sector institutions. The ethical dimension of health care imposes special legal requirements of patient treatment and bill collection practices that are distinct from a business serving willing customers.
Students must complete specific classes pertaining to health care management as well as a general business overview. Financial and computer skills are important, but not to the extent required by specialists in the medical field. Of course, the basics of ethical and legal aspects medicine and administration need to be covered. Lastly, as with all management, understanding personality types will go a long way to a fulfilling Bachelors education.
Graduate degrees focus on Masters in Healthcare Administration (MHAs) and PhDs in health care management. Students may pick specialties, but generally are required to have in-depth knowledge of legal and financial aspects of health care. Anticipating unintended consequences of likely regulatory requirements or the financial environment can pay off in handling health care management issues as they arise. Courses include operations analysis and in-depth ethical/economic research.
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Doctorate education focuses on making decisions with a multi-year time horizon as well as supervising other employees who deal with short-term management and operation issues. Executive expertise from other professions, such as accounting or medical research management, is examined in upper-level health care management.
Generally, health care management certificates are not required, but give a significant advantage in job search. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) gives certificates to qualified individuals. Certifications have to be renewed every year to remain valid. These certifications tell an employer and coworkers that the certificate holder is, among other things, “Possesses comprehensive knowledge of medical, administrative, ethical and legal requirements and standards related to health care delivery and the privacy of protected patient information”.
Unlike a normal business serving willing customers, health care managers are faced with “customers” who are usually not happy they need health care. The intersection of financial constraints, moral imperatives of providing health care and the prevalent legal environment create a challenging opportunity for those with health care management degrees.
Lastly, it should be noted that though health care is a scientific field, advanced management degrees do not require a very rigorous math/science background. A healthcare administrator is not a unilateral boss. He has to consult and perhaps defer to the judgment of specialists and experts when it comes to specific cases that hinge on complex scientific or technical questions.