Interested in a career in healthcare? If you’re detail-oriented, thorough, and want to work in a rewarding field, a career in patient access services may be the right path for you.

Patient access is a subset of healthcare administration focused on giving patients the best possible experience. This field’s primary focus is on operations. IT, facilities management, scheduling, marketing, and coordinating with referral providers all fall under the patient access umbrella.

A career in patient access services means juggling the full scope of hospital services. This means from admissions and registration to customer service and meeting state and national compliance requirements. Pursuing this career path means you’re able to wear many hats at once and excel at keeping all moving parts from falling through the cracks.

Below, we’ll talk more about Patient Access Management and what you need to do to get started on this rewarding career path.

What is Patient Access Services Management?

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Patient access management is a broad area that applies to the end-to-end operations of a medical facility. The patient access manager will oversee all admission and registration processes for patients. Additionally, that management extends to call center operations, patient finance, guest relations, billing, and compliance.

Anyone thinking about stepping into this role should be aware of its gravity. Mistakes made anywhere in the patient access process could have serious implications. For example, errors can lead to patient safety issues or legal troubles.

As such, this department handles front and backend management. Patient access makes sure patients are taken care of, private matters are kept airtight, and professional standards are met.

So, where does a patient access manager work?

In general, most people in this position work in a hospital setting and oversee the admission and registration elements of the facility. Still, some managers may find work in other healthcare facilities such as nursing homes, hospice facilities, doctor's offices, and rehab centers.

In any case, patient access managers must be able to handle a high-stress environment. They need to be very organized with high-level critical thinking skills. The bulk of the role takes place behind a computer in an office setting, but hands-on role from time to time.

Still, patient access managers often work in a visible role that involves frequent contact with the public and the hospital staff. With that in mind, the right person for the job is a good communicator that can work well with others.

Tasks include:

  • Acting as on-site general manager
  • Working to improve patient satisfaction
  • Budgeting
  • Running meetings
  • Scheduling, staff evaluations, and improving the customer experience.
  • Work to improve patient accessibility. Patient access is all about providing fast service, easy registration, and a smooth process.
  • Make sure patient services meet privacy and safety standards on the state and federal level.
  • Oversee the recruitment, training, and development of lower-level patient access staff.
  • Watch the hospital budget and allocate resources to program development.
  • Manage patient access operations and staff members on a daily basis

Educational Requirements

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Patient access management is a career path that takes a bit of time. In general, candidates should have at least five years of experience under their belt before they are qualified for the job. In some cases, patient access managers must complete three years of supervised training.

A bachelor's degree is generally preferred but is not required by all hospitals. Certification and licensing requirements vary by state. So, if you're considering getting into the patient access game, what is the best course of action?

At the entry level, you generally need a certificate or an associate’s degree to break into the field. Still, if you opt to stop your education at the associate’s level, you may have trouble moving out of the lower tiers of the patient access profession. Some positions require CHAM (1) certification to qualify.

Bachelor’s Degree

While experience is key, getting your foot in the door is a little easier when you've got a bachelor's degree. A bachelor’s degree in health administration is a good place to start for many prospective candidates. This degree focuses on the business operations of medical facilities. Students learn to manage the human resources and finance aspects of medical facilities.

A bachelor’s in healthcare administration could function as a stepping stone to an entry-level job. You might start off in billing, administrations, hospital finance. Or, on the front lines as a patient access representative. This degree offers some flexibility in career paths. You'll be able to start working in a hospital setting or for a private practice.

If you’re looking to head straight into a relevant grad program, you don’t necessarily need to have studied healthcare administration. Other relevant areas of study include human resources, nursing, business administration, and finance.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in health isn't always required. But, it is becoming the norm in managerial and supervisory healthcare positions. Because this field is complex, hospitals often prefer applicants have an advanced degree in health administration.

That said, there are a few different degree paths that can lead you to a patient access career. You can opt for a Master’s in Health Administration. This degree, like an MBA focuses on running a business. The benefit is, you'll focus on healthcare specific economics, marketing, management, and more. Others opt for an MBA or a Master’s in Public Health.

Prospective applicants will need to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in a related field. Areas of study include healthcare administration, public health, finance, management, or human resources.

In other cases, people already working in a hospital setting, like a nurse or medical assistant, may change career paths by getting their master’s in health administration. A background in the trenches, so to speak, allows healthcare workers a unique insight into hospital operations.

A master's in health administration will cover the ins and outs of healthcare management. Students can expect to study the legal aspects of health care, privacy, safety, and healthcare ethics, operations, financial analysis, and more.

Potential Job Titles or Roles in Patient Access Management

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All positions listed point to a clear career path in the patient access field. In all cases, these roles work best for someone with high attention to detail and the ability to remain calm in high-stress situations. Additionally, patient access requires contact with lots of patients and staff, so empathy and a genuine ability to care for others is key.

Here are some of the roles within the patient access field:

Patient Access Specialist

At the entry level, candidates can start off as a patient access specialist. This job exists on the front lines of the hospital registration process. This is the person responsible for checking patients into the hospital, clinic, or other facility.

This is a customer-facing clerical role involving gathering medical histories, financials, and insurance info from patients. Additionally, this role involves working to streamline patient access. So, they might be responsible for managing bed vacancies and keeping data organized and in compliance with HIPAA laws.

Work environment varies. In an emergency room setting, you may work overnight shifts. Private practice, by contrast will often keep hours within a typical 9-5.

Patient Access Supervisor

Patient Access Supervisor is a step up from the representative level--but this employee generally reports to a manager and director above them. In this role, the employee will manage a small staff and work to install policies that improve department performance. This person handles training staff and ensuring their team is ready for changing rules and regulations.

The supervisor will also ensure that the staff is producing high-quality work, and that operations are on track and within patient expectations. Additionally, the supervisor will track the patient flow--seeking to keep wait times down.

In some cases, the supervisor may manage a budget, but their main function is to act as a link between the customer-facing reps and other departments.

Patient Access Manager

Patient access managers usually work in a hospital setting or in another healthcare facility. This person handles the function of registration and admissions departments. But, responsibilities don’t stop there.

This is a customer-facing clerical role involving gathering medical histories, financials, and insurance info from patients. Additionally, this role involves working to streamline patient access. So, they might be responsible for managing bed vacancies and keeping data organized and in compliance with HIPAA laws.

Work environment varies. In an emergency room setting, you may work overnight shifts. Private practice, by contrast will often keep hours within a typical 9-5.

Patient Access Specialist

At the entry level, candidates can start off as a patient access specialist. This job exists on the front lines of the hospital registration process. This is the person responsible for checking patients into the hospital, clinic, or other facility.

Patient access managers train and mentor staff, collect data, and make sure records are accurate and secure. Additionally, these managers lead meetings, coordinate activities, and ensure department-wide compliance. Finally, the patient access manager oversees the financial aspects of their department.

This role is generally filled by a mid-career employee. The ideal candidate must have at least five years of experience working in a managerial capacity. A bachelor's degree, is preferred, and some states ask for certifications, as well.

Patient Access Director

A patient access director is the person responsible for overseeing the entire department. Most work takes place in an office setting during regular business hours. However, some directors may take a more hands-on role, working directly with staff.

A patient access director doesn't need a specific degree, but in most cases, organizations prefer to hire someone with a bachelor's degree. A master's is better. Additionally, this person needs heave years of experience in a healthcare setting.

Patient access directors may see some variance in responsibilities. Within a huge organization, this job may come with a hefty workload and a large staff. though things may be less hectic in a nursing home or a smaller health center.

That said, the director must insure staff is collecting relevant registration data and storing it . Filing, bookkeeping, billing, and record keeping all fall within the domain of the patient access director. They are also responsible for ensuring an organization is following all required legal policies.

Certification or Continuing Education

To become a patient access specialist, you don’t necessarily need to be certified to find work, but employers may prefer some specialized training.

If you have an associate's degree, you may want to consider earning the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certificate. This designation is offered through the American Health Management Information Association (AHIMA). (2)

The RHIT demonstrates an advanced knowledge of medical records keeping. Applicants will be tested on their ability to enter medical data into a computer system by measure of accuracy and completeness.

This certification must be renewed two years, and candidates must have completed 20 continuing education credits during that time. The average RHIT holder can expect to earn about $54k per year—making this an accessible way for associate degree holders to advance their career.

Again, while registration is your choice, continuing education is a differentiating factor for employees, as it allows them to keep track of new software, changing insurance rules, and the latest healthcare policies.

Certification isn’t required for every position with patient access services. However, pursuing certification from the NAHAM (3) can increase your odds of getting a pay bump or advancing into a more specialized role.

This organization offers the Certified Healthcare Access Manager (CHAM) exam. This designation demonstrates an advanced skill in the field of patient access services. To sit for the 115-question exam, you must have completed the following requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited educational institution
  • Or have a high school diploma and 90 hours of professional development completed within the past three years
  • A letter of recommendation from a CHAM certificate holder
  • Two years of experience within the healthcare field or in finance

The CHAM test is offered four times a year. The CHAM certification is often an asset for bachelor’s degree holders who wish to advance in their careers without returning for a Master’s.

Certified patient access members are required to maintain their status by completing at least credit 60 hours of continuing education. Experienced CHAM holders may apply for NAHAM Fellowship. This program is for members of the profession that have made significant contributions to their field.

Qualifications include:

  • Being published in a national publication
  • Hold a CHAM certificate
  • Have a bachelor’s degree in management, healthcare, or similar area of study or 20 years’ experience in the field.
  • Have delivered an NAHAM Conference presentation within the last three years.
  • Active NAHAM member

Salary and Career Outlook

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Salary and career outlook is dependent on several factors. On average, a patient access manager can expect to earn $50k on an annual basis. At the entry level, a patient access specialist can expect a median salary of around $40k.

A patient access director has an average salary of $82,000 in the US. Pay ranges from $51k-$120k per year, and depends on geography and experience. But, there are several roles within the patient access management field.

Long story short, patient access services is a promising career that aims to make the healthcare process better. And, there’s bound to be plenty of growth.