There is no substantive difference between ‘healthcare management’ and ‘healthcare administration’ in most contexts. However, ‘administration’ does encompass lower-level office roles and, at university, leans towards general business studies.
Unfortunately, some of the explanations of the difference between management and administration in healthcare you will find are misleading generalizations. For instance, it’s inaccurate to assume that management occupations focus on high-level strategy, while administration roles are about overseeing day-to-day operations.
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not always synonymous. Let’s clarify the nuances and delineate when the terms overlap and when they stand apart.
Are They the Same?
In most contexts, ‘health administration’ and ‘health management’ are the same. You can normally swap the terms and it won’t change the meaning of what someone is saying or writing. Management and administration are both very broad terms and there is huge overlap between them.
Honestly, I’m skeptical when I encounter claims of a clear or meaningful difference between the two terms. The practical differences are minor. They are nuanced and highly context-dependent.
I learned that the terms are highly interchangeable after researching degrees and careers across both healthcare and business fields. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t discern a strong, consistent difference between the uses of administration and management.
I observed that many proposed distinctions appear exaggerated and lack solid justification. For instance, an article from Herzing University classified ‘hospital administrator’ as a manager and ‘health services manager’ as an administrator. Try to make sense of that.
Healthcare management is the act of leading teams or departments, with the authority to make strategic decisions that guide the direction and goals of a healthcare entity.
Healthcare administration is the coordination and organisation of healthcare tasks and services, focusing on ensuring efficient operational processes.
Note: I’ve simplified the definitions to highlight the key differences between them. The main point is that healthcare managers lead staff and/or make strategic decisions. By contrast, healthcare administrators do whatever is required to maintain a facility or service.
A combined definition incorporates both aspects of running a healthcare organization.
Healthcare management & administration: The act of guiding healthcare entities through strategic leadership, team oversight, or operational coordination to ensure efficiency and service maintenance.
Related: What Is Health Service Management?
(Small) Differences in the Workplace
Across the spectrum of jobs for healthcare management professionals, most can be legitimately described as both administrative and managerial. They clearly don’t fit neatly into just one category.
The reason for the strong overlap is that anyone who can be called an administrator must, above a certain level of responsibility, also be a manager. Similarly, it’s rare and unusual to have a managerial role that doesn’t encompass any administrative responsibilities.
Some of the many examples of job titles in administration & management healthcare are: admissions coordinator, case manager, clinical manager, compliance officer, department manager, director of clinical services, director of nursing, director of patient services, director of quality assurance, health educator, health information manager, health services manager, healthcare administrator, healthcare consultant, healthcare manager, hospital administrator, medical office manager, medical records manager, patient care coordinator, patient services manager, and practice administrator.
Jobs Fitting into One Category Only
Now let’s look at the exceptions that go into one category only. Low-level purely administration jobs do exist in healthcare, along with a smaller number of high-level management-orientated jobs.
Examples of healthcare administration jobs that are non-managerial include: medical records clerk, patient registrar, medical secretary, appointment scheduler, billing coordinator, health information technician, claims processor, etc.
Examples of healthcare management jobs that may have only a small administration component are: chief medical officer, medical director, rehabilitation director, pharmacy director, and health outreach coordinator.
While many lower-level, non-supervisory roles can be strictly categorized as administrative, this classification isn’t all-encompassing. On the other hand, purely managerial roles tend to be high-level and strategic. Yet, in practical terms, the roles of health management and health administration often intertwine, with most occupations straddling both domains.
Jobs Are Hard to Categorize
An added reason why ‘healthcare management’ and ‘healthcare administration’ often overlap is that this broad class of work is multi-dimensional and hard to pin down. It’s almost a given that a non-clinical role in healthcare will encompass both managerial and administrative tasks.
From my experience across many departments and organizations, the distinction between managerial and administrative duties is usually blurred.
Complicating matters further, the job title might not consistently reflect the actual responsibilities. I’ve encountered job titles that seemed arbitrary, incorporating terms like ‘administrator’, ‘director’, or ‘manager’ for no particular reason.
In essence, based on my personal observations, professionals in the healthcare sector usually perform a complex blend of administrative and managerial tasks. Clear boundaries generally don’t exist in the white-collar healthcare sector.
Which Master’s Degree Is Best?
Now, let’s shift focus from healthcare management vs. healthcare administration at work to language in higher education. In particular, I’ll compare Masters in Health Management vs. Masters in Health Administration. Do these degrees meaningfully differ? Is one better than the other?
As a general rule, there is no significant distinction between an MHM and an MHA. Nine out of ten universities with Master of Healthcare degrees in Australia offer only one of the two types. And some universities just have a Master of Health Services Management instead.
In training professionals to become healthcare leaders, education institutions therefore perceive little difference between the healthcare management degrees. Furthermore, the respective curriculums will tend to converge as, whatever the title, each program appears to fulfill the same purpose.
The lack of distinct options at universities and colleges also indicates limited demand from healthcare students for separate MHM and MHA courses.
Should I get a degree in global healthcare or should I do health sciences or administration for the health sciences or should I do healthcare administration? Like. which one is it? And the thing is they’re all really the same.Ashley Hussain-Okorafor, Healthcare Administration Graduate
One interesting exception is Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. The Murdoch Business School offers a ‘Master of Health Administration, Policy and Leadership’, while the College of Health and Education provides a ‘Master of Health Care Management’. The administration program explores governance, strategic leadership, and economics, blending business and health policy. Conversely, the management program prioritises applied health practices, patient safety, and national health policy.
It makes sense given the earlier definitions that, if distinctions must be drawn between an MHA and MHM, the former may lean towards developing general business management skills but in a heathcare context. Meanwhile, an MHM may lean towards building the specific knowledge and skills that support leadership in healthcare settings.
Which is Better: MBA in Healthcare Management or MHA?
Another option for aspiring health managers and administrators is to do a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Health Management specialization. This choice has its pros and cons when compared to an MHA or MHM.
An MBA is a widely recognized leadership qualification relevant to almost any management role. Its major advantage is its versatility and recognition beyond the healthcare sector. However, opting for an MBA might mean forgoing specific knowledge and skills that are highly valuable in targeted healthcare roles.
Choosing an MHA (or MHM) could be a straightforward decision if you’re dedicated to a healthcare career and would benefit from industry-specific training. But if you aim to cultivate broad administration and leadership skills and are open to outside roles, an MBA (Health Management) might be the perfect fit.