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 Required

Professional 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.

Preparation for Medical Practice Management

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.

Employer Requirements

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.

Long-term 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.

Getting 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.

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