How to Become a Medical Practice Management Consultant
March 10, 2021
Medical practice management problems can be like a disease that spreads until the whole system shuts down. Luckily, practice management consultants can provide a cure. Keep reading to find out how you can become a provider to the providers—and make great money in the process.
In an ideal world, medical providers wouldn't have to spend time overseeing business operations, but that's not the world we live in. The increasingly complex regulatory environment, ever-shifting insurance and billing rules, and the day-to-day challenges of keeping a practice running while providing patient care can make it hard for healthcare providers to focus on healing people.
Sometimes hiring a dedicated medical practice manager is enough to address a practice's needs. When it's not—or when hiring a full-time practice manager just isn't feasible—medical practice management consultants (also called medical business consultants) may be brought in to work with providers to heal tough business and administrative issues. Medical practice management consultants are professionals who make it easier for providers to do more of what they do best—treat patients—by tackling the most common practice management problems. A consultant may tackle issues related not only to operations and medical billing, but also to finance, marketing, governance, human resources, growth, productivity, and patient satisfaction.
When you become a medical practice management consultant, you might work for a consulting firm or as an independent contractor. You may specialize in specific areas of medical business management (like cost containment) or in optimizing operations at specific types of facilities (like nursing homes). The one definite is that you'll have plenty to do.
It's also likely you'll enjoy greater job security than consultants in other fields. Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the US economy and one of the largest employment sectors in the country, thanks in part to a huge uptick in the number of administrative and management jobs like this one.
If you're interested in high-paying, high-impact careers in the medical field that don't involve blood or bedside manners, keep reading. In this article about how to become a medical practice management consultant, we'll answer the following questions:
- What is a medical practice management consultant?
- What are the responsibilities of a medical practice management consultant?
- What does a medical practice management consultant do?
- What degree do you need to be a practice management consultant?
- Are there certifications for medical practice management consultants?
- What is the typical advancement path for medical practice management consultants?
- How much does a medical practice management consultant earn?
- Should you become a medical practice management consultant?
What is a medical practice management consultant?
Medical practice management consultants are healthcare administration experts. They work with providers and practice managers to identify and quantify specific issues related to practice management and to implement solutions to the problems they discover.
That description is purposefully vague because every job a medical practice management consultant takes on is different. Some medical business consultants specialize in optimizing management for certain types of practices (like testing labs or ambulatory surgery centers). Others might work with a small family practice for some time before contracting with a dental practice network with multiple locations. The needs of all these clients will likely be very different.
When you become a medical practice management consultant, you might also work with nursing homes, long-term care facilities, urgent care clinics, home healthcare agencies, and large healthcare systems. The only constant is that each engagement is focused and time-limited. Medical practice management consultants aren't employees. They are expected to address specific issues in a fixed amount of time, then move on to the next job.
What are the responsibilities of a medical practice management consultant?
Your primary responsibility when you become a practice management consultant is to help your clients (or your employer's clients) solve business problems. Clinicians and healthcare executives seek out practice management consultants because they want to:
- Increase efficiency
- Improve patient satisfaction
- Reduce administrative costs
- Improve cost control
- Drive revenue
- Improve contract reimbursement negotiations
- Streamline billing
- Merge with another practice
- Launch a new practice or open a new location
- Speed up practice growth
- Identify missed revenue opportunities
- Identify operational or infrastructure improvements
- Select and launch a practice management software or EHR system
- Create a viable succession plan
Some medical practice management consultants end up handling day-to-day management issues related to medical billing or accounts receivable. However, in most instances, they work on clearly-defined, single-need projects.
What does a medical practice management consultant do?
Whether they are self-employed or part of a consulting company, a medical practice management consultant's duties vary from project to project. In general, practice management consultants do things like:
- Attend meetings with providers and stakeholders
- Interview staff
- Collect and perform a comprehensive review of patient feedback
- Assess practice operations
- Review financial and accounting records and financial performance
- Review regulatory compliance and get staff up to speed on new government regulations
- Study information flows
- Conduct on-site observation and job analysis
- Prepare feasibility studies
- Create departmental quality and efficiency goals
- Suggest enhancements to office management
- Propose resource allocation changes
- Write procedural manuals
- Create business plans
- Help new practices with benefits planning and organization
- Assist existing practices with strategic planning
- Suggest and roll out new management software
- Meet with managers and providers to determine whether changes are working
This is a job for people who enjoy working collaboratively. While you may sometimes work alone—especially when the client in a smaller practice without an in-house practice manager—it's much more likely that you'll work closely with on-site practice managers and/or other consultants on most jobs.
What degree do you need to be a practice management consultant?
Medical practice management consultants need to have well-developed business skills as well as a deep understanding of the needs and challenges of medical businesses in particular. Your educational choices should be driven by both of these objectives.
Your best bet is to choose a business bachelor's degree program that allows students to specialize in healthcare administration or healthcare management or a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration program. These unique undergraduate degree pathways include foundational business coursework as well as classes that touch on healthcare delivery systems, healthcare management, and healthcare information systems. During your undergrad years, look for opportunities to complete one or more internships at medical facilities—even if you're not getting credit for the hours you'll probably spend fetching coffee and doing data entry—because that experience will prove valuable when you're applying to master's degree programs.
And you will be applying to master's degree programs—if not right after graduation, then after amassing a few years of experience in entry-level health administration. Most employers and clients will expect you to have an advanced degree like a Master's in Healthcare Administration (MHA) , an MBA in Healthcare Administration, or an MBA in Healthcare Management. Most of these programs expect students to have at least two to five years of relevant employment under their belts, though it's possible to find programs that accept students who lack this experience.
You'll probably spend two to three years pursuing a master's degree if you study full-time, and longer if you attend school part-time. This means your journey from college freshman to medical practice management consultant will likely take nine years or more when you factor in time spent working.
Are there certifications for medical practice management consultants?
Yes, though it's worth noting that no specific licenses or management certifications are actually required to work as a consultant in healthcare. Employers may prefer candidates with particular certifications, however, regardless of whether they mention them in job listings.
Two certifications you may want to pursue when you become a medical practice management consultant are the Certified Healthcare Business Consultant designation offered by the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants and the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants. If you think you might also want to work as an in-house manager, you can also become a:
- Certified Physician Practice Manager
- Certified Medical Office Manager
- Certified Medical Practice Executive
- Certified Administrator of Physician Practice Management
- Certified Master of Physician Practice Management
What is the typical advancement path for medical practice management consultants?
Many medical practice management consultants start their careers with an administrative job at a medical practice or in the healthcare industry. You can have the best education and all the certifications under the sun, but nothing beats down-in-the-trenches experience. Even an unpaid internship in healthcare administration can make you a more attractive candidate when you're looking for jobs. Paid experience will carry even more weight.
From there, you probably need to pay your dues by putting in a few years with an established consulting company. This will allow you to gain experience and expertise before hanging out your own shingle. You'll learn a lot about practice management optimization, and you'll have access to networking opportunities galore—all without the pressure to find your own clients.
At some point, provided you haven't signed a non-compete, you can start picking up some consulting work on the side. Once you have enough experience working solo, you can make the transition to independent contract work. On the other hand, if you want to continue to work for a group consulting practice, advancement will likely mean moving into supervisory or managerial roles. In these capacities, you will oversee the work of teams of consultants or become more involved in helping your firm drum up new business.
Don't assume you'll want to stay in consulting forever. Some medical practice management consultants discover that they want the security of a full-time gig. Given that, always be networking. The connections you make at a consulting firm or when working as a contractor may eventually help you make the transition to practice management or another branch of healthcare administration.
How much does a medical practice management consultant earn?
That's tough to pin down because consultants who work on a contract basis can set their own rates, which differ depending on the scope of the project or the client's needs and wishes. According to PayScale, healthcare consultants (a broad category that includes practice management consultants) can make about $77,000, though the highest-paid may earn $123,000 plus bonuses. Glassdoor shows the average medical practice management consultant making more than $100,000. And medical business consultants may set rates that vary from less than $100 per hour to over $400, depending on their education and experience.
How much you actually make when you become a medical practice management consultant will depend on a variety of factors, like whether you work for a consulting firm, what types of clients you typically work with, and how long you've been working in the industry.
Should you become a medical practice management consultant?
If you've read this far, you're probably pretty sure you want to build a career in healthcare management. The question you need to ask yourself is: are you okay with being on the road five days a week or even for weeks at a time? Many of your clients will prefer real face time to virtual FaceTime, and some issues will be impossible to solve without one or more site visits. That's something to ponder before you settle on a lifetime of consulting work.
You may also wonder as you explore this career why providers and facilities don't just address their business issues in-house. Can a consultant ever really have job security when full-time medical practice managers are looking for work? It's true that health services managers are in demand. Still, the reality is that plenty of practices can't afford to pay a full-time business manager. Also, sometimes a practice's administrative problems are just too big for one person to solve—especially when that person is used to doing things a certain way.
That means if you decide to become a medical practice management consultant, you won't be competing against practice managers, but working with them. An outsider's perspective is sometimes the only cure for what's ailing a business, and in this role, you'll specialize in providing it.
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