Why a vision for your practice is a critical component of success

A shared vision for your practice’s three-to-five-year horizon can amplify your practice to grow revenue and weather internal and external crises.

Are you imaginative and big-picture oriented? Are you focused and open-minded? Many physician leaders of private practice indeed have these traits, but it’s imperative to make the time to take a step back and look to the future. A good vision can have strategic implications for your practice. To effectively think about the future of your practice requires structure in thought so that you may develop a vision and then amplify it.

Developing a Shared Vision

When working with physician partners on strategic planning, one of the key items that I ensure we address is vision. It is imperative to develop a shared vision for the physician practice. In some strategic planning efforts, a vision for the practice is developed after a vision for the patients has been discussed. This is with the assumption that a shared organizational vision may be dependent upon a shared vision of how the patient population should be treated.

Three-to-Five Year Horizon

Whenever this is done, it is important to agree on where the practice wants to be in three-to-five years. It is often helpful to focus on where you want to be at the end of the period covered by the strategic plan, so this time period may be shorter, but certainly no longer, than five years. This three-to-five year vision might describe the practicebroadly in terms of its mix of programs, reputation or status inside and outside its primary target community, key accomplishments, and relationships with referring physicians. Specific descriptions might be included in relation to service/target area, program scope and depth, funding, governance, staffing, relationships with other groups, visibility, etc. This form of "visioning" can be done in many ways. For example:

  • Groups can physically draw their vision of the future, then work to identify common elements and use them to establish a joint vision.
  • Groups can role play what they would want to be able to say about the practice's major accomplishments and reputation to a newspaper reporter five years from now, then use this as a basis for developing a shared vision.
  • Groups can play the role of various supportive stakeholders (i.e. patients, referring physicians, etc.) and each develop a series of statements describing the practice as they would like to see it in a specified number of years. Then these visions can be shared and meshed.

Physicians may also want to devise a formal worksheet indicating where they see the practice in either broad or specific terms. For example:

  • Broad categories – Describe the practice in five years, in terms of categories such as program, resources, status, relationships, organizational development, and governance.
  • Specific characteristics – Describe the practice in five years, in terms of categories such as target area, target populations, budget, staff size and composition, staff/component structure, program areas, offices/locations, board size and composition, and the relationship with local hospitals.

Physicians would then share the information from these worksheets and discuss. The full group must reach consensus on a shared vision. The physicians may opt to take turns describing the practice in terms of specified categories or topics (e.g., missions, program scope, resources, relationships), then consensus can be reached on major statements and categories.

Amplifying Your Vision to Grow Practice Revenue

People who buy into the "butterfly effect" believe that small actions can result in large effects. Just like the flap of a butterfly's wings may cause a tsunami on the other side of the world, the messages that organizations share publicly can force sizeable change in the mindset and behaviors of their customers, shareholders, industry and even the world at large.

Amplifying a practice's vision should be a key goal when developing any messaging strategy, yet many physicians struggle to decide if and when their practice brand should speak up and why. When it comes to amplifying your vision, practice leaders need to control the conversation. Medical practices need to communicate early and proactively address the "why" of their vision. In my experience, innovative practices tend to share their point of view early on to take control of the conversation. Whether that conversation is positive or negative, there are three important times to speak up.

1. When you expect changes in your specialty

Successful physicians carefully monitor where their specialty is headed and seek out opportunities for growth. Super innovative physicians can even drive change on a large scale, allowing their practices to grow market share while competitors scramble to catch up. When you see change coming, get ahead of the game with messages that address the change and explain how your practice is prepared to capitalize on it.

2. In anticipation of a new service launch

It's also important to be proactive in the way you're telling your story, especially when anticipating a new service launch. Start promoting your vision—not your service—prior to launch. People buy visions, they buy purpose, and they buy solutions. They don't buy products. If you know your practice will be launching a better mousetrap in two years, now is the time to communicate why you have a vision for a better mousetrap.

3. When your practice is having problems

Rather than reacting to ongoing patient complaints or a class action lawsuit, proactively seek out and listen to patient feedback to find out what your practice can do better. As you resolve those internal problems, openly communicate about what you're fixing and why.

You may ask, "But why spill the beans if you don't have to?" Some physicians fear transparency when troubles are brewing in their practice. They believe there is no need to expose something that doesn't need to be exposed and assume people (patients, referring physicians, etc.) won't find out about it. Why not just try to fix things and tell everyone, "We're great!" Marketing doesn't work that way today. Truth sells. And with today's 24-hour news cycle and all of the review sites that are out there, people are going to find out.

The more honestly and authentically a practice operates, the more reliable that practice will be perceived. Make no mistake, transparency and authenticity beat positioning all day long.

Weathering a Crisis

We've all seen healthcare organizations react too late to a crisis and end up dealing with huge public relations issues. Practices would be better off sharing a confident mantra along with ongoing examples of positive patient experiences with the public before a negative crisis arises. By reinforcing this mantra with your staff, you can significantly reduce highly publicized patient incidents because employees will think twice before acting inappropriately toward patients.

Regardless of the approach and tactics used, it is imperative that all physician owners share a common vision and that all staff members are aware of desired future direction of the practice. Vision is the thing inside of us that guides us. It creates a desire to grow and improve. Vision embodies our hopes and ideals. It gives us a sense of purpose. Vision brings us flashes or glimpses of what is possible.

About the Author
Nick Hernandez, MBA, FACHE, is the CEO and founder of ABISA, a consultancy specializing in strategic healthcare initiatives for physician practices. His firm helps devise and implement strategies that will allow practices to remain competitive and solvent. E-mail him here.