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Economy, managed care issues challenge hospital management

It is certainly not the easiest time to be in hospital administration.

Today, those in that field are finding the need to be more creative and flexible and have skills and knowledge that transcend pure economics and accounting. And tomorrow’s leaders will need even more of those skills as the healthcare industry’s future becomes more and more unpredictable.

More than number crunching

Professionals in healthcare finance today must be more than just good number-crunchers. They must also be excellent managers and communicators, creating a new set of challenges for these professionals.

Courtney Phillips knows the challenges facing today’s professionals in hospital finances. He is CFO at Delta Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in Greenville. The Mississippi Delta is one of the poorest regions in the nation, so Phillips has plenty of experience dealing with economic uncertainties.

Phillips says. “Regardless of the status of the economy, people are going to need medical treatment provided by hospitals. For a hospital to remain financially viable to provide these services, the hospital must have the ability to control cost.”

Phillips says estimating the impact of an economic downturn is the first step for formulating a strategic plan to control cost, and communicating this impact to the governing board and staff is essential. Developing and utilizing financial and clinical benchmarks to evaluate the organization at a services line level for cost-saving opportunities provides a road map for the organization to follow.

School days

Phillips points out that working in healthcare finance is rewarding, but also challenging, and requires a broad range of knowledge. He earned his accounting degree from Delta State University, and started his career in 1999 as a staff accountant at The King’s Daughter Hospital in Greenville, which was subsequently purchased by DRMC. Philips became CFO of DRMC in 2005.

He says, “I would recommend an education in accounting or finance with additional training in communication skills. Financial healthcare professionals must be able to effectively communicate the financial goals of the organization, the impact of changes caused by a downturn in the economy and to educate team members of the importance of achieving financial goals. Accurate data compilation and interpretation is an essential function of this job to ensure the organization’s strategic plan stays on financial track with the goals of the hospital. Working in healthcare, with the mission of improving health and healing, is a career close to my heart as my father was a family physician in Moorhead.”

Many of the state’s institutions of higher learning are seeing an increased interest in healthcare administration from both traditional and non-traditional students, and are responding.

Dr. Joe Holleman, director of corporate relations and MBA services at the University of Mississippi, says he is definitely seeing an uptick in students wanting education in healthcare management and administration.

“We are definitely seeing increased interest,” Holleman says. “We are seeing nurses, physicians, physical therapists — a large cross section interested in going into administration.”

He adds that these include traditional students, as well as adults, many of whom are already working in the healthcare industry and want more knowledge and skills. He says the commonality is managed care.

“Healthcare is not going any where,” he says. “The real challenge is where the industry is going. Managed care is a reality, and will be tomorrow.”

Selling health

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has added a new healthcare degree that will build skills in another area — marketing. Last September, the USM College of Business received board approval to offer a bachelor of science degree in healthcare marketing. According to USM, it is one of only a handful of universities in the nation and the only one in the Southeast to offer such a degree.

Dr. Mike Wittmann, assistant professor of marketing at USM and recipient of the Max and Susan Draughn Endowed Professorship in Healthcare Marketing, points out that USM’s College of Business has offered a marketing emphasis area in pharmaceutical and medical sales for 20 years.

“This new degree will allow us to build on that strong foundation,” Wittmann says. “It will add value to the marketability of our students and better meet the increasing needs of the healthcare industry.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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