Preparation for Medical Practice Management
Medical practice managers are responsible for everything from financial planning to appointment scheduling. Each task is important to keep a practice operating smoothly, though each also requires quite different skills. For example, the practice manager must be up-to-date on employment laws to perform their duties in human resources and also understand current coding and billing procedures. While these functions seem unrelated, the medical practice manager must be able to do both – and much more. Given the vast array of responsibilities, proper preparation is the key for successful medical practice management.
Education is always a great way to start training for a career in medical office management. Many universities across the country offer high-quality programs focused completely on the management of medical practices and patient care settings. Courses are offered in everything from billing procedures to office operations and all other tasks the practice manager will be responsible for. Accordingly, obtaining a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an accredited programs can provide the perfect foundation upon which to launch a career. While taking the time to complete a degree program can be very expensive, it should be viewed as an investment in the future. Many programs offer excellent financial assistance packages or work-study programs that can greatly reduce the burden while still providing the education needed.
Many employers also highly value experience in hiring a medical practice manager. Specifically, they look for individuals with prior experience working in a type of medical practice setting similar to theirs. For example, a dental office may prefer to hire a practice manager who once worked in a dental office. Having worked in a dental office ensures the individual is familiar with dental terminology and is coming in with a basic understanding of dental office flow and the unique issues associated with it.
Getting a job in the field of practice management requires the proper training and education. A solid understanding of the duties required is necessary to tackle the myriad of responsibilities the practice manage faces daily. Accordingly, taking the time to obtain the proper education and experience should be viewed as preparation for a lifelong future in practice management.
Degrees RequiredProfessional practice management requires a broad set of skills that can be acquired through a number of means. The key is to be knowledgeable in the principles and practice of management. It is also beneficial to be comfortable with technology and have a good understanding of medical terminology.
An excellent foundation for a career as a medical practice manager is
the bachelor’s degree in health information management. A bachelor’s in health information management
prepares a student for all aspects of behind-the-scenes work in patient care settings. Coursework
includes everything from medical terminology and human anatomy to technical writing and economics. There
are even required courses introducing laws and policies that affect how medical practices run. The
coursework is designed to also teach the problem-solving and leadership skills so necessary for medical
practice management. Be sure to check that the program is accredited by the
Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management
Education. Students graduating with accredited degrees are generally hired for entry-level office
positions within the healthcare industry.
To attain a higher level position, such as
managing the entire practice, a higher degree is usually necessary. A master’s in health services
administration, public administration, or health sciences, or a master’s of business administration (MBA)
are the preferred degrees for practice management. The leadership and managerial skills gained
in such programs are invaluable to success as a practice manager. Advanced management degrees are
designed to enhance the skills learned at the bachelor’s level that are needed to effectively run a
health care organization. Students are placed in situations of crisis management where they must outline
solutions and defend their proposed actions. The goal is to mimic real-life scenarios that offset
medical practice functions to learn problem-solving techniques in a safe environment. Upon graduation,
the students are ready to step into a real office setting and apply their knowledge effectively.
Advanced degree programs should also be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health
Informatics and Information Management Education to ensure quality.
Many medical practice
managers come up through the ranks into their positions. While they may not have the advanced degree,
they learned on the job in entry-level positions, assuming increasing amounts of responsibility as they
proved their competence. A huge plus of rising through the ranks is the experience relating to
administrative and clinical staff and an intimate knowledge of the everyday workings of a practice. The
main negative aspect of this approach is the potential for a lower salary than an equivalent position
with an advanced degree.
Education is always an asset, though in medical practice
management experience can also help individuals reach their goals. Either way, every medical practice
manager needs to be not just a good leader, but to also have a good sense of humor and a compassionate
nature to be truly effective.
Determine Additional Prerequisites
Working in medical management requires people with
a wide variety of skills. Accordingly, many employers only hire candidates with specific prior
experiences. From office to office the particular experiences required differ based on each office’s
particular specialization. Offices with large amounts of medical technology may want a manager with
prior experience in information technology or related fields. An office with the goal of expanding
quickly may seek a manager with prior work in human resources. A little research can help identify the
skills required to become a manager in the different clinical settings.
People selected for
jobs as managers of a clinical department within a hospital setting are generally those with experience
working in the department. For example, nursing service administrators are typically nurses who have
continued their education and attained degrees in management. The combination of real-life work
experience within the department and managerial training has proven to be the best preparation for
leadership. These individuals have insight into how employees feel (having been one) and the training to
implement appropriate new measures to ensure departmental success.
The same is true in a
medical office setting. Many offices require their managers to have prior experience working in heath
care. It is generally believed that someone with health care experience will be better able to
understand the unique challenges confronted in medical practices. For example, a person who worked for
several years as an appointment scheduler and then went back to school and attained a master’s of health
services administration would have a greater understanding of how medical offices run over a candidate
with the same degree but no experience. The prior experience enables the worker to walk right into the
office and begin work with very little assimilation time.
Increasingly technology is
becoming wedded to medical care, and not just for diagnosis and treatment. Advanced software programs
are being created for everything from accounting to appointment scheduling. The shift from paper to
electronic medical records alone brings forth a host of technological concerns with privacy and security.
With this trend, more and more medical practice managers who have prior experience in information
technology are being sought. Every technology function that a medical office must outsource is an aspect
of the practice that is not under their control and creates additional costs. Accordingly, hiring a
manager that understands technology is a huge asset.
Taking the time to research the
different qualifications different medical offices require of their medical practice managers
can make a huge difference in marketability. Many offices are quite strict about the qualifications they
seek in their office managers. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages that different
experiences offer, a person has a greater likelihood of obtaining his or her desired position.
Practice management is a complex field requiring skills ranging
from accounting to operations. Given this extreme diversity in functions, as well as the sensitive
nature of the work with regard to patient privacy, it is no wonder that there is a trend toward licensing
and certification. Workers in some types of medical practice management are required to obtain state
licensing, though it is increasingly becoming an advantage in other areas as well.
patient care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living centers, are under the greatest
scrutiny. Managers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and obtain licensure from the state
in which they will work. To receive licensing, managers must complete a state-approved training program
and pass an examination. They must also attend continuing education courses at regular intervals and
provide documentation of such to the state. The courses must be state approved in order to receive
credit for attending. This process is in place to ensure that high competency standards are met and to
keep patient care at its best.
Medical practice managers working in office or hospital settings generally are not required to obtain licensure. However, increasingly facilities are only hiring those candidates who are certified as medical managers. The Certified Medical Manager designation is nationally recognized. It is offered by the Professional Association of Health Care Managers and is widely accepted as the standard of excellence for medical practice management. Medical managers are tested on their skills and knowledge in 18 areas of medical practice administration, from financial procedures to human resources. Attaining certification shows employers that the manager possesses the high level of skills and knowledge required for the job.
Medical practice managers may also become
Registered Health Information Administrators
(RHIA). The RHIA exam is offered by the American Health Information Management Association and is only
available to those who have completed a baccalaureate degree or advanced degree from an accredited health
information administration program. The examination is designed to test managers on their knowledge in
the areas of patient record keeping, insurance billing, and use of clinical patient data in the office
for quality improvement or in disease management. Being registered as a health information administrator
shows employers that the candidate is of the highest professional quality in the area of managing health
information and will ensure their office is compliant with current procedures and regulations.
Medical office managers seeking new employment should consider licensing, certification, or
registration as a means for edging out above the competition. Additionally, for managers looking to
advance within their current office setting, licensing, certification, or registration may provide the
boost needed for promotion. Generally, the work put into attaining these qualifications is well worth it
both in terms of job position and salary.
Choosing a Program
The right education is critical for success in almost any job in today’s
market, including those in medical management. After determining that a job in medical practice
management is your goal, the next decision is where to get educated. As with most things in life,
knowledge is power. Taking time to research different options is crucial in finding a program that will
provide the education needed in an enjoyable environment.
The first step is to identify
schools offering degrees in medical office management. This can be easily accomplished with simple
Internet searches. Entering the program type into almost any search engine will provide links to many
schools with that program. Be careful to check each college site thoroughly to ensure accuracy, as some
search engines pick up on misleading words or phrases. Also check association Web sites, such as the
Professional Association of Health Care Managers, for valuable links to educational programs. Compile a
list of schools that appear to offer your desired program and check the school’s Web site for more
information. Many college Web sites are vast and provide lists of courses, faculty biographies, current
research projects, and recently published research papers. It is worth taking the time to look through
all the information presented for your program at each school, as very often it is the small details that
let you know whether the program is right for you. If a college’s Web site does not provide much
information, call the school and ask for an appointment to speak with the head of the department. Make a
list of questions ahead of time on topics such as coursework, research opportunities, and faculty
involvement, and keep talking until you get the information you need.
Another factor to
consider is accreditation. Many medical practice manager jobs require that your degree be from a
school accredited in the field. This ensures that the program is being monitored to maintain the highest
quality training in the field. This is particularly important for jobs that require practitioners to
take licensing tests, as in managers of long-term care facilities, as accreditation frequently requires
that the program train students in all subject matter that may appear on the licensing test. Medical
practice management programs are overseen and granted accreditation status by the Commission on
Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education. This is an independent
organization recognized by the American medical community that assesses medical management
programs to ensure they are properly preparing students for practice management jobs upon graduation.
Internet searches can usually provide certification information or, if you are still uncertain about the
accreditation status of a program, a call to the school itself can provide the answer.
Campus visits are also extremely helpful in determining the right program. Just walking around the
campus and department should provide a feeling of the energy and commitment of both the student
population and faculty. Most every college provides campus tours and many will also offer special dates
for departmental tours. Check with the individual school for date of these opportunities. Being there
in person will allow you talk directly with students and some faculty and get answers to many of your
specific questions that the Web site may not provide. Be sure to keep in mind the social factors too.
Does the school provide night classes for working students? Do most students live on-campus or commute?
Is there an active social life with study groups or is most work done individually? Both the program and
the lifestyle of the school need to suit your needs and personality for success.
hired in the medical office management field requires a strong educational foundation. While there is
no direct route to a medical management job, the right degree from an accredited program is an excellent
foundation upon which to being a medical practice management career.