Emerging Issues for Health Administration
By Christina Thielst, LFACHE
The role of hospital or health administrators is relatively new when compared to other healthcare professions such as nurses and doctors. Ever since the first professional hospital administrators were formally educated and trained in the late 1920s, there has been change. We can be confident that the healthcare delivery system will continue to evolve.
Today and tomorrow’s health administrators must be effective leaders who can adapt to change, recognize opportunities and minimize risks. The six emerging trends listed below represent some of the most complex and potentially challenging areas of practice, especially for those who are not prepared.
- Digital Health: Health information technology is changing workflows across healthcare organizations, including how care is delivered. New healthcare leaders will need to be skilled at creating strategies, planning, selecting, implementing and maintaining information technologies. This includes successfully recruiting and retaining experienced professionals in a high-demand job market, as well as ensuring security safeguards are in place to prevent data breaches and limit losses related to cyber threats.
- Consolidation: The move to new payment models for healthcare services has led to an increase in the consolidation of health services organizations. Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships are increasing as hospitals, health systems and other providers attempt to increase efficiency by building integrated networks. This new business systems will require administrators who understand the healthcare delivery system and are skilled in not only negotiating contracts, but also merging the cultures of different organizations.
Today and tomorrow’s health administrators must be effective leaders who can adapt to change, recognize opportunities and minimize risks.
- Virtual Care: Evolving technologies are quickly being applied to increase patient engagement and access to care for patients who are active and mobile. Administrators will need to visualize the workflow, processes, policies and training needed to maintain quality and patient safety during the shift to more virtual care models, practices where the patient is not present within the clinic, hospital or office. This includes expanded use of telemedicine, social/mobile technologies and platforms that facilitate care coordination activities between the care team and patient.
- Behavioral Health Integration: Integrating behavioral health with medical services for a more total care approach is underway. The first step of embedding behavioral health professionals within primary care settings has begun, especially for those who have adopted primary care medical home models. But, there is much more to be done. Health administration leaders will need to support clinicians to improve their skills with recognizing behavioral health symptoms in primary care, specialty care, emergency rooms, hospitals and long-term care. They will also be tasked with helping create structures for these clinicians to collaborate and meet patient needs.
- Cost of Healthcare: Traditionally, the healthcare industry has struggled with specifying and describing the actual cost of services provided. Wide variations in prices for the same procedure across multiple hospitals and the intense focus on reducing the cost of healthcare, including new payment models, is resulting in pressure on health administrators to better understand the cost of care that their organizations provide. This is leading to an increase in the use of technologies and people who can analyze data and articulate value to both payers and patients.
- Improving Performance: Health administrators are responsible for evaluating structures, systems and processes within the system to ensure that they are responsive to organizational needs. The many drivers of change, including the Affordable Care Act, has only increased expectations in this area. As opportunities for improvement are identified, healthcare administrators must be able to measure and analyze performance as well as improve patient outcomes and organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The most effective health administrators will also continually build upon their improvements and sustain change.
The training of administrators has also evolved. In the 1970s and ‘80s, it wasn’t uncommon to find a hospital CEO who only had a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management but today, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement for executive roles. This is due to the increased complexity of the healthcare delivery system and greater industry expectations. Today’s healthcare leaders must have the education to support their development of sharp skills and expertise as the risk of not having well educated administrators is just far too great.
Columbia Southern University (CSU) is an online university based in Orange Beach, Ala., that strives to change and improve lives through higher education by enabling students to maximize their professional and personal potential. If you are interested in learning more about Health Care degree offerings, please go to: http://www.columbiasouthern.edu/healthcare.
Christina Thielst has experienced the evolution of the healthcare system over the last 30 years as both a hospital administrator and consultant. She received a bachelor’s degree in social science/management from Louisiana State University and a Master’s of Health Administration from Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.