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Why bother with strategic planning?


Forming a strategic plan may seem like a waste of time, but it can be beneficial to a practice.

Why bother with strategic planning?

Do you have a strategic plan for your practice? If the answer is “no”, you are in good company? I find that many physician practices shy away from strategic planning for a variety of reasons:

  • They think their time should be spent on patient care and billing only
  • It seems overly complex and therefore, overwhelming to do
  • Past experience with strategic planning were ineffective at the least, or downright unpleasant at most
  • They don’t see the value of it
  • When they have done one, they have not used it effectively (often it sits on a shelf collecting dust)
  • They don’t think they have the time

Despite these reasons, there are many compelling reasons to engage in the strategic planning process and a method that is easy to use, yet results in a user-friendly, implementable plan that aligns the entire office around an engaging vision. Consider this: if you were planning to build a home, would you begin the project without a sense of what you want it to look like, what will be involved in making your home a reality, and specific plans for how and when aspects of the project will be completed?

A strategic planning process may seem unfamiliar because it is time you spend ON your business, rather than IN your business. It is not about patient care or healthcare activities. It is focused on the health of your medical practice by putting in place a set of strategies and action plans that ensure its future sustainability. Before diving into the specifics, here are some reasons why you might take the time and effort to develop a strategic plan:

  • It provides clarity and intention around how you want to run (and perhaps grow) your practice
  • It provides clarity and alignment for your team
  • It allows you to conduct an assessment of strengths to leverage, challenges to overcome, and opportunities to pursue
  • It guides decision making around where to focus your resources and where not to
  • It is motivating for the staff and unites them around a common purpose
  • It allows you to course-correct if certain strategies are not achieving the desired outcomes
  • It provides a method for regularly assessing the health of your practice

So, what does it take to develop a simple (but not simplistic) strategic plan? Below I provide a set of questions that allow for reflection on the current and future direction of your practice. The process of developing a strategic plan is meant to be done with others – physician partners and/or key staff (such as the office manager). If your practice is small, I recommend including all the staff in the process. Here are the six sections of your strategic plan with questions to address for each one.

  1. Mission – defines the purpose of the medical practice. Every plan begins with this element because it is at the heart of your practice. I encourage your mission statement to be brief and memorable. You don’t need to cover everything that you do – instead capture the essence of your practice. Consider how you want the community you serve to think about your practice.
    1. Why does this practice exist?
    2. What is the unique value that we provide?
    3. What is our purpose?
  2. Vision – describes where you are headed, what you are trying to build and/or maintain, taking into account relevant changes in the healthcare industry, both nationally and locally. Your vision is your North Star and should be a stretch but not a pie in the sky.
    1. What will the practice look like in five years (or any time frame you select)?
    2. Who will we serve?
    3. What services will we provide?
    4. What will we be known for?
    5. How much will we grow?
  3. Core Values – this considers the behaviors and values that are consistent with achieving your vision and staying true to your mission. It describes a set of healthcare provider (everyone that works in the practice) behaviors and values, both in terms of how staff work together and also how patients and families are treated.
    1. What are the values that we believe are most important to ascribe to?
    2. What are the behaviors we will discourage?
    3. What do we want patients to say about us?
    4. What do want staff to say about us?
  4. Strategic Priorities – this section identifies how you will achieve our vision. There are usually 3 to 7 strategies – any more than that, dilutes your efforts and makes it less likely that you will stay focused. Strategic priorities are not a list of everything that needs to be done, but rather, where you most need to focus your attention and resources. This is where you get to be strategic in your thinking.
    1. What do we need to do extremely well to be successful?
    2. What could we start doing that might help the success of the practice and/or improve the care we provide?
    3. What are we currently doing that we should stop doing (because it is not achieving the desired outcome)?
    4. What might allow us to be more efficient?
    5. What might allow us to improve patient outcomes?
    6. What are our biggest obstacles to overcome? And how could we overcome them?
    7. Are there any assumptions we hold that might be limiting us? What would it mean to challenge that assumption?
  5. Action Plans – a strategic plan is only worth doing if you actually implement it. Action planning makes sure that you have plans in place to execute on your strategies. Every strategy should have a set of action plans with clear objectives.
    1. How will we make each strategy a reality?
    2. What are the projects we must prioritize?
    3. What is the specific work to be done? By whom? When?
    4. What are the outcomes we want to achieve?
  6. Metrics/Targets – this is your dashboard and, like the dashboard in your car, identifies the most important metrics to track on a regular basis. While there may be many metrics you are tracking, the ones that appear on your dashboard are the ones that you must follow in order to achieve your vision. Every metric has a targeted goal that can be measured, I recommend no more than 8 metrics. They should be metrics that, if you do not achieve the expected results, it will prompt you to take action (like reconsidering your strategy). Every metric needs at least one strategy that it is linked to (because that informs how you will achieve the result).
    1. What results will we use to measure our success/progress?
    2. Which metrics will most inform our decisions?
    3. What are the monthly or quarterly metrics that we will track over time?

Are you ready to develop your own strategic plan? A facilitator can be helpful to the process, but you now have all the necessary elements to develop your plan. Have fun with it!

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