Analyzing the Growth of Healthcare Finance Jobs
By Hannah Meinke on 01/27/2020
It can be easy to think that direct patient care is the only way to make a difference while earning a good living in healthcare. But needles and blood have never been high on your list, and medical school is way too much of a commitment at this stage in your life.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to finding work in a meaningful industry like healthcare. If you’ve got a mind for numbers and want to help people, a role related to healthcare finance might be the right fit. These financial professionals must assess risk and benefit just like those on the front lines of care. They play an integral role in improving the healthcare process.
Ready to learn more about health finance jobs? We spoke with health business experts to help you better understand this industry from the inside out.
Why are healthcare finance roles growing?
It's no surprise that healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries—after all, bedside manner can’t exactly be automated or exported and population trends from a large and aging Baby Boomer generation are poised to keep healthcare providers busy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a growth of an additional 1.9 million healthcare jobs by 2028—more jobs than any other occupational group.1 What you might not know is that a large portion of those jobs are administrative. With an increasing patient population, every visit to the doctor’s office brings behind the scenes work from a team of healthcare managers, receptionists, and—yes—financial professionals.
But before we explore the jobs you might be interested in, let's cover why finance is in demand for healthcare employers.
Finance impacts the quality of patient care.
When you think about making a difference in healthcare, you probably picture nurses, doctors, physical therapists or other specialized patient-facing professionals. But behind every successful treatment administered is a host of financial calculations that need to be made.
In the long term, without a quality financial plan that keeps facilities running, there is no quality healthcare. Steve Shain, COO of healthcare consulting firm LTC Contracting, says this is why his team considers the outcome of every decision. “Aside from weighing out the financial pros and cons of a particular business model, each decision behooves a second look—is this going to enhance or diminish the level of patient care being provided?”
For example, adding a monthly staff meeting could seem like an unnecessary expense, but if medical teams can’t confer on best practices or address morale, their quality of work could suffer—which obviously trickles down to the patients. With improved data collection and health records systems, healthcare finance professionals can help tie financial decisions to the impact they may have on patient outcomes.
Medical debt is a serious issue for both patients and providers.
According to a New York Times survey, one in four Americans is struggling with medical debt.2 Another study by The Commonwealth Fund found that 41 percent of all working adults have trouble paying off medical bills or debt.3
Not only can this lead to financial hardship and even bankruptcy, but it causes significant stress on personal and family lives. But as much as medical debt burdens the patient, it can also burden the provider. Medical debt can also put a strain on hospitals as they go unpaid or are underpaid for the services provided.
As technology advances, procedures become more expensive. At the same time, patients are calling for more affordable healthcare. The result is a push for financial experts to find a middle ground.
“As providers are looking to continue offering the same caliber of care, their costs are going up and reimbursement is often lower. They are turning to experts that understand those areas that, until now, were not their main focus. This includes ways to collect more of their accounts receivable, how to produce better financials, and how to contract and care for the growing managed-care population,” says Shain.
Healthcare is changing.
If election season rhetoric is any indication, healthcare is a focus area for change. But as CareDash CEO Ted Chan predicts, there are some big changes on the horizon—not the least of which is how we pay for healthcare.
For a long time, healthcare has followed the rule, you pay for what you get. Chan puts it like this: if you get knee surgery, you pay for the administrative costs, your doctor’s time, your nurse’s time, your portion of the AC bill, and so on. It’s called a fee for service payment model. You—or by proxy your insurance provider—pay a fee for every service offered.
According to Chan and many others, however, this model does not incentivize hospitals to be cost-effective. After all, your fees are their revenue, and more fees equal more revenue. They have no reason to try to get you out of the hospital a day early or ween you off of a medication you could live without.
Chan describes an alternative model spurred by healthcare reformers that is changing this mindset. It’s called value-based care—a payment model that encourages quality care at an affordable cost. While there are variations on how this is done, the basic premise involves bundling costs and measuring the outcomes of treatment.
Chan is hopeful that this change will be good for both providers and patients. However, a shift like this will require a lot of analytical ability to determine how much things will cost, what factors will influence price, and how to manage risk. This shift toward value-based care is another big reason why healthcare needs quality financial professionals.
What kind of healthcare finance jobs are there?
While a “finance” job might make you think of traders on a stock exchange, the healthcare finance roles tied to keeping providers up and running efficiently take on different forms. To help you understand what’s out there, we’ve gathered key information about some of the most common finance-related healthcare jobs.
Quantitative data analyst
Also known as a financial quantitative analyst, this role “hybridizes data science, analytical capability, and financial analysis,” says Chan. To him, it is one of the most important jobs in healthcare finance, influencing everything from patient acquisition to the care journey and billing and reimbursement.
As healthcare becomes more data-driven, these critically thinking professionals utilize information from all across the industry to make it more viable, accessible and efficient. This advanced role will require an education to match—most financial quantitative analysts hold a Master’s degree, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.3
Patient financial counselor
Most people don’t try to understand the complexities of healthcare financial options until they need to, and by then, they have a recovery to focus on. Financial counselors can help both patients and providers by educating people on the cost of care and explaining their options. They help lay out payment plans so patients can avoid being blindsided by medical bills and hospitals can avoid losing revenue.
In this role, you can expect to utilize customer service skills as you advocate for patients and educate them on their options. In some cases, you may also help schedule and coordinate a patient’s care while communicating with insurance companies and providers.
When a hospital performs a service such as a general checkup, a medical coder will translate that service into a code that insurance companies use to process medical bills. Without coders, a key stream of medical data needed for financial decision making and planning would run dry.
This task is highly detail-oriented and deadline-driven as even the simplest mistake could be the reason for an insurance company to deny a claim. Medical coders can work for a third-party agency or a specific department in a hospital.
After a medical coder sends an insurance company a claim for the cost of medical procedures, a claims specialist must determine whether to pay and how much. They must determine if a service is covered by their plan and network, if all procedures were necessary, all information is correct, and guard against potential fraud.
Revenue cycle analyst
Rather than just deal with bills, a revenue cycle analyst looks at the entire life cycle of a patient’s financial experience. From scheduling the first appointment to receiving the last statement, these professionals are looking for ways to improve the process and eliminate issues.
Are there a lot of errors in coding? What about that process can be more efficient? Are patients refusing to pay? How can you help prevent delayed payment? To be successful in this role, you will need a strong understanding of both clinical and business practices.
Make a difference in dollars
“At the end of the day, healthcare is very personal,” Chan says. “Healthcare expenses are causing stress for people and burdening our lives right now.”
There are few things more personal than our health and our bank accounts—and scrutinizing both can cause some pretty raw feelings. Despite this, Chan says pursuing a career in healthcare finance is a very powerful way for someone to drive value, improve people’s lives and help reduce the overall cost of care.
No one will pretend that these subjects are simple, but everyone can agree they are worth working on. “It’s a big challenge we collaboratively have to solve,” Chan says.
If you think you’re up for the task, check out our article, “9 Signs You Have What It Takes to Major in Finance.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook – Healthcare Occupations, [accessed December, 2019] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm
2The New York Times & The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Kaiser Family Foundation / New York Times Medical Bills Survey, [accessed December, 2019] https://www.kff.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/8806-t-the-burden-of-medical-debt-results-from-the-kaiser-family-foundation-new-york-times-medical-bills-survey-topline.pdf
3Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed December, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Employment conditions in your area may vary.