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Project Management in Healthcare: Introduction and Phases

Project Management in Healthcare

Project management helps many businesses and industries, so seeing it in healthcare is hardly surprising. However, today’s healthcare industry faces significant challenges, including increased regulation, more pressure to cut costs, and shrinking staff. Adding to the difficulties, the healthcare industry (along with many others) is still reeling from the after-effects of the global pandemic.

Medical project management can help a healthcare institution run more efficiently, deliver quality patient care, and stay afloat during challenging circumstances.

This article covers the role of project management in healthcare, including a definition, the stages and methodologies of healthcare project management, the skills required for the position, the unique challenges facing healthcare project managers, and how you can become a healthcare project manager.

And now, let’s tackle that definition.

What is Project Management in Healthcare?

Here’s a generic definition of project management, which applies to project managers regardless of their industry. Project management applies knowledge, tools, skills, and techniques to accomplish project activities, ultimately achieving the organization’s goals.

The term “healthcare industry” covers elements such as hospitals, health systems, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare vendors, and medical groups, all of which rely on project managers to support and expedite business transformation initiatives.

Project managers grasp the concept of process groups and how they can impact a project. These processes are:

  • Organizational Change Management
  • Project Communication Management
  • Project Cost Management
  • Project Procurement Management
  • Project Quality Management
  • Project Resources Management
  • Project Risk Management
  • Project Scope Management
  • Project Stakeholder Management
  • Project Time Management

Good healthcare project managers implement policies that improve patient care, resolve operations issues, and build positive and healthy relationships with stakeholders. Here are the most common areas that healthcare project managers focus much of their energies and efforts in the form of projects:

  • Resource allocation. Healthcare project managers oversee organizational spending habits and allocate funds to the necessary departments.
  • Communication. Healthcare project managers emphasize clear, thorough communication between medical staff (e.g., doctors and nurses) and exchanges between physicians and patients. Healthcare project managers also ensure hospital administrators can access updated patient and insurance information, better maintaining health records and keeping the workplace organized.
  • Productivity. Healthcare project managers delegate projects to staff members and evaluate their performance on the job. These projects are typically designed to increase staff productivity and enable medical personnel to handle sudden patient rises, especially during healthcare emergencies.

Well-planned projects provide organizations and businesses with the perfect way to tackle the above challenges. Once you see those three areas in terms of potential projects, you can see how that approach can yield excellent results.

With that in mind, let’s explore the standard stages of project management to understand better how to get any project off the ground and successfully completed.

Also Read: What Is Problem Solving in Project Management?

The Stages of Project Management

Typical project management (whether it’s healthcare or any other industry) breaks down into four distinct stages.

  • The initiation stage. In this phase, the project manager defines the scope of the project and determines its purpose and extent. This evaluation covers areas like project costs, anticipated risks, and desired outcomes. Managers also encourage project teams to formulate feasible solutions for the anticipated challenges. Once this stage is completed, the managers send the plan to the organization’s leaders for approval and acceptance.
  • The planning stage. Every project is broken down into tasks, and here’s where each task is outlined. First, each project step must be plotted, including assigning responsibilities, setting a budget, and establishing deadlines.
  • The execution and monitoring stage. In this stage, the teams get to work, and their efforts are regularly monitored. If any aspect of the project needs to be modified, including changes to the budget or schedule, the project manager takes point, clearing all changes with upper management or stakeholders. This stage is particularly challenging in the healthcare industry, as more stakeholders typically must sign off on every step of the process.
  • The conclusion stage. The project managers evaluate the project’s success, summarizing the outcomes and deliverables and any lessons learned. These findings are compiled into a document that can be handed off to the stakeholders and serve as a reference for future projects.

Methodologies for Project Management in Healthcare

Project management methodologies are popular frameworks that guide how the project team handles their projects (e.g., planning, execution, monitoring)—most organizations, including healthcare, use three popular methodologies.

  • Agile. Agile emphasizes adaptability, communication, and speed. Teams carry out the different phases of the project in parallel rather than in a sequential approach, depending on close and continuous collaboration and communication to keep everything running on track.
  • Waterfall. On the other hand, waterfall methodology is a sequential, linear-based approach where the project is broken down into more minor, clearly defined phases. Every project phase is meticulously mapped out, including tasks, deliverables, and deadlines, which must be completed before the team tackles the next step.
  • Hybrid. As the name implies, hybrid methodology fuses waterfall’s big picture planning with the speed and flexibility of agile. So, for example, a team could use the waterfall method for the initiation and planning phases while turning to agile for the execution phase. Although the process takes a bit more planning, it’s an excellent way to ensure the project team enjoys the best of both worlds.

Also Read: What Is Quality Assurance in Project Management?

The Requisite Skills for Healthcare Project Managers

Upper management and stakeholders expect a lot from project managers. Consequently, project managers need a comprehensive set of particular skills to meet those expectations. Here’s a sample of skills every good project manager needs.

  • Adaptability. Medical facilities experience constant change, and project managers must roll with those changes. These events could be health emergencies (such as a pandemic), budget adjustments, and personnel turnover.
  • Leadership. By its very nature, project management is a leadership role. This role means that healthcare project managers must know how to motivate the staff, build productive relationships, make tough decisions, and help create a positive work environment. The medical industry is a demanding field known to burn out many a staff, so strong, empathetic leadership is critical.
  • Problem-solving. Wherever you find a project, you encounter challenges and obstacles. Great project managers have good problem-solving skills. This soft skill includes keeping a cool head when everything around them collapses, finding solutions to problems and crises, and assigning the right people to address them.
  • Communication. Healthcare project managers need robust interpersonal communication skills to help them communicate effectively with various professionals from diverse backgrounds.

The Unique Challenges of Project Management in Healthcare

Project management is challenging, but the healthcare industry is a complicated field that raises risk and complexity to exceptional levels. Here’s why the healthcare industry poses uniquely tough challenges to project managers.

  • They’re dealing with lives. The healthcare industry is all about people, particularly their health and privacy. So the stakes are high, and so much can go wrong. Any organizational change can affect people’s lives and well-being. And if things go wrong, there’s a strong likelihood of litigation, which can ruin careers and reputations and adversely affect the organization’s continued existence and success.
  • Heavy regulation. Since the stakes are so high (e.g., patient health and privacy), there are understandably many rules. Project managers must work within these regulatory frameworks while still delivering constructive results. These efforts usually result in increasingly complex projects and more stringent requirements.
  • Ever-increasing costs. Prices keep rising everywhere, including in the medical sector. More insured Americans and a greater demand for cost-effective yet quality health services have helped those costs rise sharply. Project managers have a balancing act, trying to walk the line between quality and economy.
  • The industry is constantly in flux. Service-oriented industries tend to experience more remarkable changes and have it happen more often. There need to be more healthcare professionals since these are the kinds of positions that technological solutions cannot simply replace.
  • Excessive stakeholder oversight. Healthcare project management typically has many different stakeholders that they must answer to, including hospital boards, government agencies, etc. It’s up to project managers to navigate this sea of stakeholders and still deliver results.

Also Read: Best Project Management Apps You Should Consider

Summing Up the Best Practices of Project Management in Healthcare

The following are best practices that every good healthcare project manager must keep in mind:

  • Streamline the process. Once the project management process is defined, it must be easy to implement and execute. Managers can use tools such as strategy management software that simplifies step planning and tracking a project’s progress.
  • Be aware of relevant regulations and governance. Project managers need a solid knowledge of the unique requirements of the healthcare industry’s heightened regulations and governance.
  • Expect the unexpected. If anything can go wrong, it will. Therefore, managers must be capable of updating their plans and budgets in the face of unforeseen circumstances.
  • Communicate openly with all parties in the organization. Project managers should have a standardized, open planning process, gathering feedback from diverse departments throughout the organization. In addition, effective managers ensure that team members feel their voice is listened to and valued. Team members should be encouraged to speak their mind on potential issues or obstacles.
  • Document results for future projects. Project managers should prepare a document summarizing the project’s roadblocks and their solutions, unexpected occurrences, project outcomes, and lessons learned. This process improves future project management processes and allows the team to take a victory lap.

How to Become a Healthcare Project Manager

Here’s a handy roadmap to help you become a project manager in healthcare. It’s a tough road, but ultimately worth it!

Gain a College Education

Healthcare project managers require at least a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, it would help if you learned how medical facilities operate and the terminology healthcare professionals use when caring for patients. Consider studying these subjects:

  • Business administration
  • Health administration
  • Economics
  • Nursing
  • Public health administration

Earn your Master’s Degree

While not mandatory, a master’s degree opens doors and helps you specialize.

Work in a Clinical Role

Experience is a great teacher, especially in the medical field. This hands-on experience can prepare you for a healthcare project manager position. Consider an entry-level position to learn about the industry, as well as to build a professional network. In addition, some degree programs may require applicants to complete a clinical internship before graduation, another excellent opportunity to work in the field.

Earn Project Management Certification

Like a master’s degree, certification isn’t mandatory, but it can boost your qualifications and appeal as a job candidate. Here are three popular and well-respected professional certifications:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). This certification requires a high school diploma or associate degree plus 23 hours of project management coursework.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP®). PMP requires a bachelor’s degree and 36 months of project experience. Applicants also must have a CAPM certification or 35 hours of project management training.
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP). Candidates must have a four-year degree or PMP endorsement, plus at least six years of project management experience.

Now that we know how to become a healthcare project manager, let’s look at the healthcare project management salary picture and the future potential demand for medically-based project managers.

Also Read: What are PDUs in PMI? An Explainer

What’s the Salary and Job Outlook of Healthcare Project Managers?

According to Glassdoor.com, the average healthcare project manage5 salary in the United States is $107,961 per year, with a range of $64K at the low end and $184K at the high end.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of medical and health services project managers will grow 28 percent in the decade between 2021 and 2031, outpacing other occupations.

How to Get Solid Project Management Training

If this discussion on project management has inspired you to consider it as a career or just upskilling your current skill set, consider this valuable bootcamp in project management. This post graduate program in project management, offered by Simplilearn in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and aligned with PMI-PMP® and IASSC-Lean Six Sigma, teaches you valuable skills needed to pursue a career in project management in healthcare.

Once you satisfy the PMP certification requirements, you get a certificate and membership in the UMass Alumni Association. In addition, you are awarded 146 Professional Development Units (PDUs) to help you keep your CCR current for future PMI-related certifications.

So, sign up today and enrich your project management skill set and chances for a more fulfilling and secure project management career.

You might also like to read:

Six Sigma in Healthcare: Concept, Benefits and Examples

Top 12 Project Management Books You Should Check Out

Understanding Scope in Project Management: Definition and Importance

9 Project Management Techniques and Tools That Actually Work in 2023

Best Project Management Software You Need to Have in 2023

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