Knowledge Expansion

How Strategic Plans Can Help Guide Medical Groups

Insight Article

Most successful medical organizations have a clear and motivational vision that demonstrates what they strive to accomplish in the future. This vision serves as the driving force behind an organization's operations and help unify teams under one guiding principle. Organizations without such a vision struggle in establishing a clear route to success. This route is often referred to as a strategic plan, a detailed and measurable guide to achieving a vision. Kenneth T. Hertz, FACMPE, principal consultant for MGMA, has far-reaching experience with strategic planning, from writing and consulting to design and execution. He likens the process to a road trip. The vision is the destination, while the strategic plan is the roadmap, complete with mileage, stops and other valuable details. 

How does a healthcare organization approach successful strategic planning? Examining the vision is a smart place to begin. Hertz recommends that organization's first ask management and physicians how they define success and what they wish to achieve in the future, whether it be independence, security or liberation from management issues. A strategic plan cannot be devised before an organization knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be. What's more, it should understand that a strategic plan is more than a simple document to be written and filed away for reference. It’s ongoing – a living, breathing process. As Hertz puts it, it is not a wish-list, nor is it a crystal ball. 

When establishing a vision, healthcare organizations should take stock of their resources as well as what needs can be better served in their local or the national healthcare environment. It can also be tremendously helpful to conduct a SWOT analysis to examine strengths and weaknesses (internal) and opportunities and threats (external). For example, an organization may have the strength of having high-end technology and the weakness of high staff turnover. It may have the opportunity of being featured in a prominent trade publication while facing the threat of rapid expansion by a nearby competitor. Taking these into account can help shape the scope and details of a bigger vision.

The healthcare industry has experienced an especially high degree of volatility in recent years, as its fault lines shift, and its landscape takes on new forms. Changes in payment strategies and reimbursement, to the "silver tsunami" and its effect on Medicare (to name a few), have added new levels of uncertainty to an already hectic industry. As a result of all this uncertainty, it no longer makes sense to design strategic plans with a timeline of five to 10 years like they used to be. An organization's vision can certainly have a 10-year time horizon but devising a strategic plan with a timeline of one to three years is more sensible as this allows for specific strategizing with less likelihood of necessary readjustment. To harken back to the road trip analogy, consider a three-year strategic plan towards an eight-year vision as the first leg of a three-day drive.

Strategic planning should be an ongoing process in which organizations actively engage. Just as important as devising measurable goals is actually measuring them. Benchmarking performance is a must in the successful implementation of a strategic plan, as is maintaining a current understanding of industry and group trends. Discipline also plays a significant role in the ongoing process of strategic planning. Business discipline and financial management are crucial to ensure that available resources stay aligned with goals and strategies. To that end, Hertz reminds practices not to get too hung up on verbiage (objectives vs. milestones vs. goals, etc.). Language is important, but it's more important that organizations stay on the same page of their understanding of the strategic plan, as well as unified in their approach to executing it. A helpful way to stay engaged in the strategic plan is to establish quarterly goals or milestones, as well as extended quarterly meetings with key staff members to measure success and maintain accountability.

Another important method for achieving a vision via a strategic plan is scenario planning. Planning for the best- and worst-case scenarios (and allocating potential resources to both) can be a good safeguard against the aforementioned changes to healthcare, and it can leave some leeway for the organization if steps are missed or it fails to meet goals altogether. 

Strategic planning has reached a new level of importance in today’s complicated healthcare landscape, and the more comprehensive and engaged an organization is in their approach, the more likely it is to achieve success.

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MGMA Consulting is the industry leader in creating meaningful change in healthcare, one organization at a time, in the areas of Operations, Strategic Planning and Governance, Financial Management, Staffing and Compensation as well as Practice Transformations. Consultants average more than 30 years of diverse and extensive experience in the business of healthcare, have had extensive careers as practice executives, are deeply connected to the business of care delivery and offer solutions customized for each organization. Consultants within MGMA Consulting have access to MGMA DataDive, a rich and robust set of medical practice survey data gathered by MGMA, the nation's largest premier practice management membership organization.
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