Becoming a Healthcare Consultant - Education, Certification & Daily Responsibilities
Healthcare is getting more complex. Governmental regulations, high tech solutions, and lean financial budgets mean that healthcare entities have to be experts at pretty much everything. To gain that specialized expertise and targeted decision-making, they often turn to healthcare consultants: the hired guns of the healthcare industry.
Healthcare consultants are usually contracted for short-term projects. Increasingly, those projects are tech-related—such as implementing an EHR system or migrating data to the cloud—but their focus can run the gamut across any issue a business or healthcare facility could encounter. The work of healthcare consultants is, by its very nature, bespoke to the client that contracts them. And when the project’s over, the consultant moves on.
Some estimates place the value of the US healthcare consultancy market at over $50 billion, and it’s still on the rise. A broad shift towards value-based care, regulatory compliance, data-driven analytics, and cloud applications mean that healthcare organizations will continue to need help implementing new solutions and processes. The job of a healthcare consultant isn’t easy: it starts early, goes late, and requires borderline fanatical commitment to completing projects where the demands can change overnight.
In the course of their work, healthcare consultants save their clients money and time while improving their efficiency—and that’s worth a lot. Top consulting firms like McKinsey and Deloitte can pay healthcare consultants a base salary of $140,000. Combined with a signing bonus and a performance bonus, one’s total compensation can easily exceed $200,000 per year.
Work as a healthcare consultant is fast-paced, challenging, dynamic, and highly rewarding. To get a look at the details of life as a healthcare consultant, read on.
Work Environment of a Healthcare Consultant
The work environment of a consultant will change based on the client who retains their services, and vary further based on the consultancy for which they work. McKinsey consultants, for example, will often spend Monday to Thursday at the client site, where they may have a desk, a cubicle, or an entire reserved room if part of a larger team. Fridays may be spent back at the consultancy’s home office.
It’s important to note that client sites are rarely in one’s hometown, and thus travel is a way of life for many healthcare consultants. The frequent use of teleconferences and virtual work means that a healthcare consultant is often expected to work from anywhere, at any time.
Clinical Team of a Healthcare Consultant
Healthcare consultants have to work within and amongst multiple teams and stakeholders. They have some level of engagement with their client’s general staff and a symbiotic relationship with their home office and engagement manager.
The relationship with the client coordination team is especially important—these teams aren’t just data resources to a healthcare consultant; they’re a partner that’s going to help find the right solutions (ones that are usable) and get those solutions implemented. This is a networked job that requires heavy collaboration and coordination across multiple departments.
Typical Clients of a Healthcare Consultant
The three most common clients for healthcare consultants are hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, and other types of healthcare providers.
- Hospitals are the most common client of a healthcare consultant. Here, healthcare consultants align the hospital with government regulations; research, purchase, implement, and maintain EHR systems; and coordinate strategic planning for mergers, acquisitions, and other economic shifts.
- Pharmaceutical firms are the second most likely client of a healthcare consultant, and the most profitable market segment. Here, healthcare consultants provide expertise in human resources, logistics, public relations, and strategic management.
- Other healthcare providers (e.g., physician offices, outpatient centers, diagnostic labs, and medical labs) are the third most common client of a healthcare consultant. Here, healthcare consultants help with financial management and operational efficiency, particularly around supply costs, purchase methods, the implementation and maintenance of EHR systems.
But that’s not a complete list. Healthcare consultants can also work for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, medical device companies, and insurance providers.
Typical Daily Responsibilities of a Healthcare Consultant
While the typical daily responsibilities of a healthcare consultant will depend upon the client who has retained their services, their work can often be broken down into four distinct categories.
- Strategic management: navigating new governmental regulations, developing internal governance procedures, or advising on overall strategic direction
- Financial management: improving accounting procedures, managing capital investments, conducting price negotiations, or analyzing the claims process
- Human resources: offering recruitment and retention strategies, training and developing employees, designing compensation and benefit packages
- IT strategy: implementing a new EHR system, integrating software-supported medical devices and IoT applications, migrating data to cloud servers
On a more granular level, typical daily responsibilities could include:
- Conducting interviews for research
- Analyzing data spreadsheets
- Designing decision models
- Updating PowerPoint decks
- Meeting with client leadership
- Coordinating solutions with consultancy team
In each case, the objectives will be determined by the client organization. The means of achieving those objectives, however, are largely up to the healthcare consultant and their team. Finding solutions to problems is why they’ve been hired, and delivering those solutions requires a strong, multidisciplinary skill set.
Required Skills and Knowledge of Healthcare Consultants
Healthcare consultants will need a strong understanding of both the business world and the healthcare industry. A bachelor’s degree is rarely enough. Healthcare consultants at top consultancies often have a master’s degree, either an MBA with a specialization in healthcare, or an MHA. This will supply the general and specialized knowledge needed to tackle a wide range of client needs.
Healthcare consultants are self-starters and quick learners who require minimal supervision. They need critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and leadership skills. They need to be able to use a suite of different software systems, and be able to provide decision modeling and big data analytics. Adeptness in management techniques such as LEAN and Six Sigma can be a large benefit to healthcare consultants. This is a role that requires continuing education on best practices, governmental regulations, and emerging trends. To stay at the top of their field, many healthcare consultants will need to be lifelong learners.
Certification for Healthcare Consultants
While it’s not a requirement in order to practice, many healthcare consultants seek out professional certification as a way to distinguish themselves and demonstrate a commitment to best practices and continuing education.
The National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC) offers the Certified Healthcare Business Consultant (CHBC) designation. In order to earn the credential, candidates will need to become members of the NSCHBC, and then pass a four-hour certification exam. The exam is designed for seasoned professionals, and the NSCHBC recommends candidates have several years of experience and several years of membership with the NSCHBC, before attempting it. Exam fees are $600.00. The CHBC designation must be renewed every two years through the completion of 50 continuing education hours.
While not specific to healthcare, the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) offers the more generalized Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation. Eligibility requirements include three years of management consulting experience, a four-year degree, five client evaluations, and a written summary of engagements.
Once deemed eligible, candidates will need to pass both a written and oral examination. Application fees are $350 for IMC members and $550 for non-members; annual fees are $395 per year for members and $550 for non-members. Every third year, CMC holders will need to recertify by demonstrating 30-plus continuing development points.