In this era of market-driven health care, it is important that psychologists be aware of the business aspects of providing mental health services. However, the extensive training that psychologists complete does not usually include business and management skills. In order to help remedy that gap, the Cummings Foundation for Behavioral Health in Reno, Nev., and the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Mo., have designed an online master's of behavioral health-care administration (MBHA) degree program.
The postgraduate degree is modeled after a degree available to physicians-the master's in medical management-and is designed to give practitioners the business and entrepreneurial knowledge to more effectively run their practices and to become leaders in the behavioral health industry, says Nicholas Cummings, PhD, ScD, president of the Cummings Foundation.
An underused niche
Psychologists used to occupy many of the preeminent spots in behavioral health care, says Cummings, but such positions are increasingly occupied by physicians because they have the managerial training the industry is demanding. As a result, other professionals sometimes decide when and how much psychologists get paid, he says.
Practitioners with extra business training also have access to a wider range of entrepreneurial opportunities, adds psychologist William O'Donohue, PhD, executive director of the Cummings Foundation.
"Disease management is an example-we could do this well because there are a lot of psychological issues," he explains. Psychologists' training in managing treatment adherence, diagnosing and treating comorbid problems such as depression and substance abuse, coordinating social support and stress management are particularly useful in helping patients cope with obesity, diabetes and other manageable diseases, O'Donohue notes. Some psychology programs are addressing the need for behavioral health management training by offering students certificates in behavioral health management that they can earn while getting their doctorate. However, the Cummings Foundation sought to fund a program for current practitioners. The foundation has had a collaborative relationship with the nonprofit Forest Institute since the two organizations developed an integrated health-care (IHC) elective cluster that teaches students how to operate in medical-particularly primary care-settings. Forest has offered the IHC cluster since 2002, and according to Mark Skrade, PsyD, the institute's president, it has been well received by students and local practitioners. Developing the MBHA seemed like a logical next step, he says.
"Given the level of marketing and business activity that is central to the successful delivery of services in today's health-care system, as well as the limited availability of this type of training in traditional psychology programs, the MBHA has the potential to help enhance both service delivery and the ability of psychologists to participate in the health-care system," says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice.
Forest is offering the first three courses in the MBHA program as a pilot run. Students who complete these courses-Entrepreneurship, Organizational Management and Health Economics-will receive a certificate in behavioral health administration. According to Skrade, Forest is still enrolling students and completing the process for regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The initial class for the pilot run will be limited to 20 students in order to make assessing the program more manageable.
Once the full MBHA program is up and running, students will take three more semesters of courses such as Understanding Insurance and Third Party Payors, Fundamentals of Marketing in Behavioral Health Care, and Behavioral Health Law.
O'Donohue believes that preparing psychologists to take a leading role in the market-driven health-care system benefits patients as well as psychologists. He thinks that adding a psychologist's expertise in areas such as treatment compliance, establishing support systems and identifying behavioral patterns that complicate medical treatment will enable patients to receive more effective treatment. With collaboration between medical and behavioral experts, health-care delivery can become more comprehensive, he says.
Some of the courses in the online MBHA degree program:
Financial Decision-Making for the Behavioral Health Executive
Fundamentals of Information Technology in Behavioral Health care
Quality Improvement in Behavioral Health