How to Create a Strategic Plan to Improve Your Medical Practice

October 9, 2013

Physician practices should begin strategic planning now for the years ahead.

Having goals is one thing, but they're useless if you don't have a plan in place that outlines the details and measure you'll take to achieve them.

Such was the message imparted by Dennis Wipperling, practice administrator of Minneapolis-based Pulmonary and Critical Care Associates, during his Tuesday session at the Medical Group Management Association Annual Conference, entitled "Control the Destiny of Your Practice: The Art of Strategic Planning."

"The future ain't what it used to be," he said as he showed a slide of Yogi Berra to a room practically overflowing with attendees. "We're living in a time where things are really changing. Things are changing so quickly and we need to do strategic planning so we're not blindsided by these changes."

Referring to trends of integration and hospital alignment, Wipperling advised physician practices to begin strategic planning now for the years ahead.

One of the fatal flaws of some practices is lack of discipline and focus in creating a plan, so when the need to change becomes more urgent, the practice is unprepared, he said. Instead, physicians and practice managers need to take into account everything from competition and payer reimbursement changes to physicians nearing retirement. "I think of a plan as … a multi-day cross country trip such as Minnesota to Disneyland," said Wipperling. "You want to get to Disneyland on certain days. A strategic plan is a process that leads to an outcome [such as] arriving at Disneyland. It begins with a vision. It has to be a dynamic plan. It's the journey that's really important as we go through the whole planning process."

This means that when forming a plan you should ask yourself: What are our capabilities and what will fulfill the mission and accomplish the vision? What has worked for us in the past? Given the current environment and impending changes, what are our priorities?

Wipperling recommended conducting a standard "SWOT analysis" - identifying specific strengthens/core competencies), weaknesses (what needs to change), opportunities (what the organization be doing that it is currently not doing), and threats.

After preparing this analysis, practices should conduct a physician or staff assessment to get an idea of where it stands. This means looking at metrics like patient satisfaction, and asking, through something like a survey of physicians and staff, what is working and what isn't.

This can help you identify what your practice needs to change and work towards, and therefore, it helps you shape your strategic planning goals.

And of course, it's important not to get ahead of yourself when goal setting.

"Priorities really should be limited to what can be accomplished and what has the greatest statistical impact to the practice," said Wipperling. "There should be an action plan for each priority."

For example, if your plan includes the goal of improving patient engagement, action items might include asking schedulers to speak with a "smile in their voice," and asking providers to have more of a "Yes, I will see that patient" attitude. Then, systems and processes should be aligned with priorities (this might mean implementing same-day new appointment times, or other ways of ensuring an excellent experience for new patients).

Once you've achieve your goals, the real party can begin.

"Acknowledge that once there's accomplishment toward the goal, that there's some celebration with recognition," said Wipperling. "It's about having visions, being diligent, and tracking this information. And it's about rewards, and celebration, and feedback."