What Does a Health Administrator Do?

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A health administrator in a meeting with health care professionals in a conference room.Health care administrators direct the many moving parts and systems that allow a medical organization to function. From the day-to-day operations to budgetary concerns, to overseeing a medical facility’s staff and more, administrators play a vital role in the delivery of health care.

Ensuring that a medical organization is running at an optimal level takes a wealth of knowledge and experience. When a facility runs efficiently, it has a positive impact on the lives of both patients and the medical professionals striving to provide high-quality care. With proper training, technology, and procedures in place, doctors and nurses can focus on what they do best: caring for others.

What health care administrators do involves intimately understanding the needs and priorities of a health care facility. It requires proper training and a thorough knowledge of both business administration and medical sides of health care. For future health care administrative leaders, seeking an advanced degree, such as a Master of Health Administration (MHA), can provide the tools to meet the demands of operating a medical organization and pursue professional goals with confidence.

What Is Health Care Administration?

The daily operations of a health care organization involve the efficient functioning and coordination of a variety of different departments, procedures, and staffs. Health administrators are the professionals directing those disparate operations. Health care administrators can guide the future of an organization, make decisions that can shift a facility toward value-based strategies that put overall patient satisfaction ahead of budgetary needs, and put policies in place that greatly impact the lives of patients.

From concerns such as the overall satisfaction of both physicians and patients to the financial needs of a facility, health care administrators oversee the sustainability and success of an organization as a whole. The essence of what health care administration is can encompass a diverse list of roles and responsibilities, including the following.

  • Directing operations: Managing a smooth process for day-to-day activities and problem solving when required
  • Overseeing clinical care: Ensuring both high-quality care delivery to patients and a positive work environment for staff
  • Staffing: The hiring, training, and management of staff or delegation to department supervisors if required, as well as handling complaints or disputes and coordinating with human resources
  • Recordkeeping: Prioritizing detailed and current records for all patients in accord with HIPAA and other legal requirements
  • Stewarding finances and budgets: Making financial decisions to ensure a medical facility remains within budget while innovating and meeting industry standards
  • Ensuring legal compliance: Putting policies and procedures in place that guarantees the proper, legal delivery of care while keeping clear and detailed records in the event a facility must handle a legal dispute

At its core, health care administration leads the non-clinical functions of a health care facility so that clinical functions can provide the best possible standard of care to patients. Responsible for both the budgetary and supply needs of an organization, health care administrators can oversee the development and implementation of delivery strategies and help move the focus of their facility toward value-based patient care systems.

Health Administrator Job Description

The roles and responsibilities required of health care administrators affect each department within an organization and require strong leadership skills. The role of a health administrator is more than simply being a manager — they are responsible for overseeing, coordinating, and facilitating services within a very complex and influential system. Their choices can greatly affect the health and long-term wellness of patients and the medical professionals who care for them.

Work Environment

What health administrators do can vary depending on the scale and type of organization they work for. Between environments such as long-term care homes, small private practice clinics, large hospitals, and emergency care facilities, the day-to-day responsibilities can differ significantly. For example, large organizations with their complex finances, staff management, policies, procedures, and multiple large departments usually require teams of people to direct them.

Organizations that typically require a health administrator include:

  • Hospitals
  • Government organizations and agencies
  • Rural clinics
  • Private practices
  • Nursing homes
  • Chronic and long-term care facilities
  • Psychiatric facilities
  • Recovery centers

From small towns to metropolitan areas, there are opportunities for health administrators to fill important positions across the country and make a valuable impact in the lives of patients.

Among their many roles, a health administrator’s job description involves navigating between a health care facility’s operational processes and the delivery of high-quality patient care. As such, there are a variety of responsibilities that health administrators may take on.

Staff Management

Whether it be department heads or staff responsible for day-to-day operations, administrators are responsible for ensuring there are qualified professionals in all departments of an organization. From the medical professionals caring for patients, to the cyber security and IT technicians ensuring that systems function, to the maintenance staff or marketing teams working behind the scenes — it takes a village for a health care organization to succeed.

For health administrators, staff management can involve the following responsibilities:

  • Hiring or firing employees
  • Recruiting department leaders
  • Conducting interviews
  • Managing benefits
  • Managing employee conflicts or human resources referrals
  • Ensuring adequate staffing

What does a health administrator do to hire the best candidates for the job? They help ensure the atmosphere, benefits, and workplace culture of their facility is attractive to job seekers. With factors like the high rates of nurse and physician burnout, the demand for experienced medical professionals nationwide, and the rising cost of living in many areas of the country, the choices made by a health administrator can have a lasting effect on an organization and the individuals working within it.

Financial Management

Health care in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry. The financial choices that health administrators and boards of directors make can have an enduring impact on not only patients and medical professionals themselves, but on the future of an organization as a whole.

According to a report from the New York Times, hospitals are struggling to recover from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as procedures like emergent surgeries decline and beds are filled with patients due to the pandemic.

In response to these challenges, many facilities are looking forward to new advancements and a shifting business model — one that can adapt and weather the storm of the pandemic and the types of patients a facility is likely to treat. Doing so requires a thorough understanding of not only the current financial model and the management of a balanced hospital budget, but innovative thinking and the ability to look to the future.

Some of these advancements or changes in policy include:

  • Shifting to value-based compensation
  • Budgeting for long-term care vs. elective procedures
  • Reallocating staff and budgets

With the highest profits normally associated with emergency care or elective surgical procedures, health care organizations must find new ways to run sustainably, such as placing a larger emphasis on long-term care or systems like Medicare or Medicaid.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Patient care involves a number of different legal and regulatory laws that health care facilities must comply with. Health administrators must ensure the systems and procedures their facilities use satisfy these regulations.

Among the many duties that make up what a health administrator does, keeping up to date with changes in policies and legal requirements is one of them. The margin of error for health care organizations is a thin one, and no organization wants to be responsible for malpractice, legal noncompliance, or negative patient outcomes.

Some of these regulatory concerns can include:

  • Patient privacy
  • Insurance regulations
  • Nurse unions and legal staffing regulations
  • Proper facility licensing and technical requirements

Developing and implementing policies and procedures that meet legal and regulatory requirements while prioritizing positive patient outcomes is a vital part of health administration and allows a facility to function with less concern of negative repercussions.

Value-Based Patient Care

Budgeting for a health care facility goes far beyond spreadsheets or bottom lines. The decisions that organizations make in their allocation of funds can greatly impact the lives of patients. The choices that administrators make can encourage or impede the delivery of patient care and change the way in which medical professionals and patients look at care.

According to an article from the Academic Medicine journal, some of the main tenets behind value-based care include:

  • Understanding shared health needs of patients
  • Designing solutions to improve health outcomes
  • Measuring health outcomes and costs

As physicians look to a more value-based care system (in which financial compensation increases with positive outcomes and quality of care is emphasized over quantity of care), administrators must find ways to shift their thinking and move their business models in the same direction. By choosing to finance an institution based on long-term positive outcomes, administrators can greatly impact the care that patients receive and look to make a lasting impact in the lives of others.

How to Become a Health Administrator

There are a number of different paths for those wondering how to become a health administrator. Regardless of one’s educational track and background, there are certain milestones candidates should achieve to pursue a career as a health administrator.

Health Care Administrator Education

Due to the complex nature of health administration — with its many responsibilities, budget considerations, legal regulations, and staffing challenges — pursuing higher education with a focus in the health administration field can provide invaluable knowledge and career advantages.

Most health care administrators have at minimum a bachelor’s degree in a field related to medicine. However, those looking to pursue more high-profile or coveted roles often choose to earn an advanced degree as well.

Pursuing a master’s degree, such as a master’s in health administration, can provide the advanced skills to take on the responsibilities of a health administrator. Through coursework focusing on both medicine and administration, graduates can deepen their leadership, analytical, technical, and interpersonal skills to steer a facility toward the future.

Work Experience

Work experience can be a valuable addition to an administration degree. Many organizations seek candidates who understand the ins and outs of the industry, recognizing what may work in theory vs. what works in the real world. Gaining experience in health care combined with an advanced degree can give graduates the ability to take on the many challenges of health administration with confidence.

Licenses and Certifications

Health administrator roles and responsibilities can vary greatly from one facility to another, which may necessitate additional licenses or certifications. Depending on the state, there are different qualifications that must be met, and graduates should be aware of the individual requirements of their state. While not all types of health administration demand additional licensing, it is a federal requirement that nursing home health administrators be licensed.

Additionally, some graduates may pursue certification from organizations such as the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) to show they have the necessary training and knowledge to work as a health care administrator. Earning certification may take additional years of experience, references, and an interview from the ACHE board of governors.

Health Administrator Salary and Job Growth

The need for skilled health care professionals in the U.S. is rising. As the country’s population continues to age and more citizens require health care, the need for medical facilities that are both efficient and able to handle increasing patient demand continues to grow.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for medical and health services managers — including health administrators — are projected to grow by 32% from 2020 to 2030, much higher than the average for all occupations.

The median annual health administrator salary was $104,280 as of May 2020, according to the BLS. Those in the top 10% earned over $195,630. While the salary can vary based on factors such as job duties and type of employer, several other factors can affect a health administrator’s income, including education level, years of experience, and the location of the job.

Education

Health administrator salaries can vary based on the level of education that a candidate has. While it is the industry standard that medical and health services managers complete at least a bachelor’s degree, higher education such as a master’s degree allows students to gain an in-depth understanding of the health administrative role. This may yield higher salary figures.

Years of Experience

Combining education with on-the-job experience can give candidates a better understanding of what a health administrator does on a daily basis and how to prepare for unexpected challenges. Gaining work experience in the medical field outside of administrative work can also be an advantage to future leaders, allowing them to directly grasp the challenges that different departments may face. Industry-specific knowledge and experience may also lead to higher-level positions.

In many cases, medical professionals who have worked in other health care roles may choose to pursue a role in health care administration as opposed to continuing with direct patient care. Understanding where the strengths and weaknesses in an organization lie can help future leaders adapt, and prioritize their facility’s improvement and growth.

Job Location

Job location can play an important role in a health administrator’s salary. Factors such as the cost of living, the population size, or the size and reputation of the medical organization itself can all affect salary figures. In some cases, more remote communities may offer relocation bonuses to secure desirable candidates. Comparably, in high-volume and busy city centers, being an administrator who can handle the pressures of a large facility may contribute to a higher salary.

Become a Leader in a Critical Field

Health administrators ensure that medical organizations run smoothly and can put the needs and care of patients first. Health care administration is vital to the health care system, providing medical professionals with the resources and opportunities to embrace value-based patient care and improve quality of life. With a well-run organization and staff who are happy, a health care facility can lead the way toward a bright future in medicine.

Balancing the needs of the clinical side of an organization with the non-clinical side is no easy task. It requires a leader with a solid foundation in both business and health care. Earning an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Health Administration from Ohio University, can be the key to building that foundation and entering the workforce with confidence.

With its cutting-edge curriculum, fully online structure, and the ability to study at your own pace, Ohio University’s program was created to provide real-world experience while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Discover how you can expand your impact as a leader in health care with a Master of Health Administration from Ohio University.

Recommended Readings

Hospital CEO Career Outlook and Salary

How to Become a Health Care Administrator

Human Resource Management During Times of Public Health Crises

Sources:

Academic Medicine, “Defining and Implementing Value-Based Health Care: A Strategic Framework”

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Association of Medical Colleges, “AAMC Report Reinforces Mounting Physician Shortage”

American Public Health Association, Health Administration

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, NHE Fact Sheet

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, What Are Value-Based Programs?

Health Affairs, “How Administrative Spending Contributes to Excess US Health Spending”

Indeed, “FAQ: Everything You Need To Know About Licensed Healthcare Administrators”

Indeed, “Learn About Being a Health Administrator”

New York Times, “Hospitals Knew How to Make Money. Then Coronavirus Happened.”

PayScale, Average Health Care Administrator Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Census Bureau, “65 and Older Population Grows Rapidly as Baby Boomers Age”