Healthcare providers operate in a complex medical, regulatory, and high-tech environment. They require leaders who understand the changing models of medical care delivery and have the business management skills to guide organizations through this ever-changing landscape — but if they don’t understand healthcare’s specific challenges, they can be at a disadvantage.
This is why clinicians and other medical providers are well suited to advance into a health leadership role. In the following article, we’re taking a look at the management skills needed to improve outdated care models and expand your knowledge of patient and healthcare provider needs.
Gain an understanding of current challenges facing healthcare leaders
Healthcare leaders are confronting a number of challenges. Some of these challenges are long-standing, dating back to the 20th century and earlier, such as rigid management structures. Others stem from the modern era of healthcare as a result of technological and regulatory change. To advance into a leadership role, healthcare professionals need to have a strong understanding of the major issues in the current healthcare landscape.
Hospitals and other providers are facing stiff financial pressure. A February 2021 report from the American Hospital Association predicted that hospital revenues would be down between $53 billion and $122 billion for the year — largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors include the rising costs of labor, medical products, and personal protective equipment. At the same time, patients who would have come in for elective treatments stayed home.
Since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the U.S. healthcare industry has seen many major regulatory changes. The move toward electronic health records (EHRs), value-based care, the insurance marketplace, billing transparency, and other changes impact how providers offer medical care.
Patient privacy and HIPAA
Health administrators must protect patient data under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Patient information is highly regulated, but medical research and population studies widely use it. Any data that is compromised, whether in research or in a cyber breach, can cause significant problems for administrators.
COVID-19 highlighted the issue of burnout and compassion fatigue among healthcare providers. The pandemic worsened a shortage of clinicians, especially nursing staff. Hospitals have turned to signing bonuses and other incentives to bring in nurses. In some facilities, medical students and doctors are performing tasks normally done by nurses to fill the gap. Additionally, the shortage of medical assistants continues to have ripple effects.
EHRs and EMRs
The goals of EHRs and their technological cousins, electronic medical records (EMRs), are simple: Increase the accuracy of patient records and improve care. However, clinicians assert that data entry is time-consuming and takes them away from patient care. Unless providers get sufficient training, they may introduce errors into patient records, increasing the risk of medical errors.
According to one estimate, a single patient generates more than 80MB of data each year. That information extends beyond symptoms, prescriptions, and medical data such as X-rays, EKGs, and other diagnostic results; it also includes office visits, insurance and billing data, patient satisfaction surveys, and more. Hospitals and other providers also generate health data, including financial data, employee scheduling, supply chain, accounts payable and receivable, and physical plant information. All of this data must be managed, scrubbed of errors, kept secure, and analyzed.
Develop the qualities of an effective healthcare leader
To help solve complex healthcare challenges, healthcare professionals need to develop strong leadership skills.
Effective health leadership is both strategic and motivational. Leaders focus on creating a workplace culture that puts patients first by providing staff with the resources they need to do their jobs. Good leaders communicate with their teams. They’re open to employees’ feedback and work with them to get their support for the processes and procedures that improve care.
An effective healthcare leader is one who can work in three spheres: business and financial management, operations and administration, and human leadership. An advanced business degree with a focus on healthcare administration, such as OpusVi and Northern Arizona University’s MBA in Healthcare program, can help clinicians develop skills in all three.
Business and financial management
A healthcare administrator must be able to handle financial management, human resources, supply chain management, the physical plant, insurance reimbursements, and state and federal regulations.
Financial management: This includes accounting, finance, income and expenses, insurance reimbursements (or denials), and more.
Human resources: A key responsibility of healthcare leaders entails hiring and retaining clinical and support staff.
Supply chain: As illustrated by the shortage of PPE during the pandemic, the supply chain is essential to a healthcare facility´s smooth operation.
Facilities management: Ensuring a clean, safe working environment is necessary for patient and staff safety. This includes physical security.
Insurance reimbursement: The fee-for-service model is still the main payment system in the U.S. healthcare system.
Regulations: Healthcare leaders must be able to navigate this highly regulated industry.
Data management: Healthcare leaders use data to support strategic decision-making.
Operations and administration
The role of healthcare administrators is to manage healthcare delivery systems that work for patients and providers. This means supporting their workforce so they can do what they do best: care for patients. To that end, they may solicit input from doctors and nurses about best practices and changing protocols to boost efficiency and care quality. The role also includes analyzing the data on patient outcomes, population health, costs, and other metrics to identify issues and make recommendations to improve the quality of services. These responsibilities include:
- Tracking key performance indicators: Healthcare leaders are responsible for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) and making critical decisions based on this data. This data includes staff-to-patient ratios, patient wait times, insurance claims, emergency room visits, patient follow-up visits, and medical errors and near misses. Healthcare leaders take into account these and other metrics when making data-backed decisions to improve performance.
- Managing risk: The goal of risk management in healthcare is to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. In practice, risk management is a facility-wide endeavor. Healthcare providers face risks from all corners — regulatory, financial, cybersecurity, medical technology, and even housekeeping. Healthcare leaders are responsible for creating a culture of risk awareness and making sure that everyone is trained in risk reduction best practices.
- Guiding clinical operations: Healthcare leaders with a clinical background can participate in clinical decision-making. They understand medical processes and procedures, and they also bring financial, administrative, and strategic experience to the table. Healthcare leaders such as chief nursing officers (CNOs), for instance, have firsthand knowledge of what nurses need to do their jobs and can make decisions to support those roles.
- Supporting the workforce during COVID-19: The impact of COVID-19 on doctors and nurses has been well documented. Prioritizing the well-being of staff is essential to ensuring doctors’ and nurses’ mental and physical health. Appropriate staffing levels and sufficient safety equipment are necessary to protect employees. Hiring for diversity also supports staff and patients. And using data analysis to support hiring, financial, and care decisions can help providers better meet the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Health leadership that prioritizes human resources may be the most effective at creating a successful working environment. These leaders are empathetic and inclusive, curious, and open to input. Strong leaders meet the following criteria:
- They communicate: They make sure they exchange information with their teams proactively.
- They listen: Effective leaders take input from clinicians and others, and they’re open to different ideas.
- They are strategic decision-makers: They base their decisions on the data, the experience of their teams, and their own knowledge, and they can think through the effects of different options.
- They are patient-centered: Patient care is at the core of everything that healthcare leaders do.
- They mentor others: They help their teams grow their own leadership skills.
- They are team builders: Rather than taking a linear, hierarchical approach, they take a team approach to creative decision-making.
Start your leadership journey with the MBA in Healthcare from OpusVi and Northern Arizona University
Whether you’re a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional, the online MBA in Healthcare program from Northern Arizona University and OpusVi can be the foundation of your career as a healthcare leader. Experienced clinicians can expand upon their medical knowledge with coursework in healthcare economics and consulting, as well as strategy, leadership, and financial management. In addition to a flexible online learning structure, the MBA in Healthcare program has a low price point that makes it more accessible for healthcare professionals of all types. Learn more today about how a healthcare MBA can enhance your career.
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The National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives (NALHE) and Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE) are aligned in their mission to increase access to high-quality education and equity in healthcare