Understanding the Difference Between Health Administration and Healthcare Management

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Health administration or healthcare management? Whether these two terms have distinct differences or whether they are one in the same depends on who you talk to, which can leave you feeling more than a bit confused as you begin researching your degree options.

As you explore health administration degrees, at either the bachelor or master’s degree level, you will find that some institutions freely interchange these terms, while other institutions make a clear distinction between the two.

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Healthcare delivery in the 21st century demands leadership that is familiar with and capable of overseeing the full breadth of responsibilities necessary to efficiently manage staff, allocate resources, analyze finances and develop policy within a healthcare organization. In this evolving environment, it becomes necessary for leadership to be well versed in all aspects of healthcare delivery and administration, and schools have developed degree programs accordingly. This means that in many cases, there is very little definitive distinction made at the academic or professional levels. Still, there are schools that do distinguish between the two areas of study, so it is worth exploring the position of major industry stakeholders.

Here’s what you need to know:

What the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) Says

The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), the only accrediting agency for graduate healthcare management degrees in the U.S., makes no distinction between health administration and healthcare management degrees.

All CAHME-accredited programs must meet the same curriculum requirements as set forth by CAHME, with no distinction made between institutions that utilize the term health administration and those that utilize the term healthcare management for their degree programs.

According to the CAHME, the term Healthcare Management describes multiple areas, including:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Health services management
  • Hospital/healthcare organization-specific administration and management
  • Health planning and evaluation
  • Healthy policy and other related activities

In fact, although CAHME frequently utilizes the term Healthcare Management when describing educational programs, the majority of programs accredited by CAHME utilize the term Health Administration. This is because CAHME recognizes that while some fields have a narrow definition, health administration/healthcare management is broad and diverse, requiring a myriad of skills, knowledge, and flexibility; therefore, CAHME does not identify any one standard setting in which the practice of health management takes place.

What the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Says

Likewise, the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes no distinction between the two terms, instead using the term Health and Medical Services Managers to describe both healthcare managers and health administrators.

The BLS defines medical and health services managers as both healthcare executives and healthcare administrators. Their job duties include planning, directing, and coordinating medical and health services, which may include managing an entire facility, specializing in a specific clinical area or department, or managing a medical practice for a group of physicians.

What Some Institutions Say

While many institutions provide no distinction between health administration and healthcare management (often interchanging or combining the terms within their degree program), some institutions make a clear distinction between the two.

The general consensus among those colleges and universities that distinguish between the two terms is that healthcare management focuses on the organization as a whole, while health administration focuses on specific issues like budgeting and staffing.

In other words, health administration degrees emphasize health management, while healthcare management degrees emphasize business administration. Therefore, healthcare managers manage all business aspects of a healthcare facility, while healthcare administrators focus specifically on departments or issues within a department.

Note: Other institutions that provide no distinction between health administration and healthcare management often describe these two roles as health administration generalists (overseeing the organization as a whole) and health administration specialists (overseeing a specific department or area of health administration).

The Healthcare Management Degree

This is why many degrees in healthcare management feature a business core. A master’s degree in healthcare management, for example, builds on a management core to reflect the need of a manager’s role in healthcare organizations.

The foundation of a master’s degree in healthcare management, for example, may include subjects such as accounting, finance, economics, strategy, management, marketing, technology, and information systems, thereby providing students with a broader understanding of general business practices. These programs often suit professionals in business management, accounting, and finance with aspirations of branching off into the healthcare field.

These programs also draw on the behavioral and applied social sciences, biomedical sciences, and fiscal policy. Many times, institutions feature an interdisciplinary faculty from business, medical, and nursing backgrounds, as well as those from the health and sciences.

Many of these programs have a curriculum focused on business-related issues in healthcare, such as:

  • Health services system
  • Managed care and industrial organization of healthcare
  • Financial management of health institutions
  • Health policy
  • Legal aspects of healthcare
  • Management of healthcare for the elderly
  • Healthcare marketing
  • Comparative healthcare systems

The Health Administration Degree

Health administration degrees, on the other hand, may instead focus more on healthcare industry-related topics. Students interested in pursuing careers as health insurance administrators, managed care analysts, or healthcare consultants may find that health administration degrees are in line with their career goals.

A health administration degree is often grounded in subjects such as human resources, healthcare delivery, healthcare law, ethics, and health policies. Therefore, courses often include study in:

  • Medical informatics and decision management
  • Healthcare financial management
  • Community and public health
  • Health economics and quantitative methods
  • Quality and performance improvement
  • Healthcare law and policy

Health Administration Versus Healthcare Management: Which Degree to Choose

Although a number of institutions design and structure their programs to reflect the above models, many do not, and there are many exceptions to the rule. For example, there are many MBAs in Health Administration and just as many Master of Health Administration (MHA) programs found in business schools.

Your best bet will always be to study each program and determine if the goals and objectives of the program meet your career goals.

Regardless of the title, degree programs in health administration or healthcare management provide students with an education that combines competency in management with an in-depth knowledge of the healthcare sector and the contemporary issues that influence it. Specializations and concentrations within these programs allow students to focus their program on specific areas of interest within healthcare administration, such as global health management, health policy, or human resources.

Whether you choose a health administration or a healthcare management degree, you will find that all programs prepare students to take on leadership roles in public and private settings, such as hospitals, healthcare systems, ambulatory care centers, managed care plans, and long-term care providers, just to name a few.

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