What is strategic planning in healthcare?

Strategic planning in healthcare is the process by which a healthcare organization defines its future vision and goals and maps a course to achieve those goals. Healthcare leaders engage in the strategic planning process to ensure the organization has a long-term blueprint for fulfilling its mission for the communities it serves. Through the process, healthcare leaders determine how best to position their organizations for strategic growth, competitive differentiation, and sustained financial health.

As part of strategic healthcare planning, organizations must evaluate their current resources and operations, including strengths, weaknesses, and the gaps that need to be filled to achieve their long-term goals. This involves determining how best to reduce costs and allocate facilities, staff, and other resources to optimize financial outcomes and enhance patient care and access. Ultimately, the objective is to assure the organization’s future success so that it can continue to provide healthcare consumers with access to essential, high-quality healthcare services.


Why is strategic planning important in healthcare?

The healthcare industry is undergoing perpetual change and has been affected by numerous disruptions in recent years, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, expansion of virtual care, increased regulatory pressures, an uncertain economy, mounting competition, and ever-changing patient expectations.

This dynamic has resulted in a greater emphasis on the healthcare strategic planning function to effectively align an organization around its mission and long-term goals. Having a sound strategic plan is increasingly vital to ensuring an organization’s ongoing success and viability amid a volatile environment. This is especially important in an industry that historically relies on tight operating margins. The strategic plan establishes guideposts to help organizations better navigate future unknowns. It also establishes a defined mission that can help keep organizational leaders, staff, and other stakeholders engaged and working together toward a common purpose.


What are the benefits of strategic planning in healthcare?

The healthcare strategic planning process and the resulting strategic plan both provide numerous benefits, including:

Organizational insights

Developing the strategic plan requires organizations to conduct a thorough review of their resources and operations. This process often renders valuable revelations regarding what an organization is doing well and what it could improve upon to best serve its mission. Once a strategic plan is developed, leaders gain additional insights through further data and analyses as they continuously monitor progress toward organizational goals.

Mission clarity

An organization’s mission sometimes can get lost in the hectic business of day-to-day operations. The strategic planning process provides an opportunity to clearly define long-term goals, renew focus on the organizational mission, and reorient everyone around that mission.

Enhanced engagement

Done properly, the healthcare strategic planning process draws input from across an organization. Feeling they have a stake in the organization’s future success builds buy-in and engagement among clinicians and staff, helps them be more invested and motivated around a common mission and goals, and creates a cohesive plan for all to follow.

Lower healthcare costs

The strategic plan aims to ensure that an organization is using its resources efficiently and effectively to optimize the delivery of healthcare services. The planning process involves a comprehensive audit of operations that helps healthcare leaders identify opportunities for improvement — including redundancies or other areas of potential waste — which helps to reduce the overall costs of providing care.

Improved services and greater patient satisfaction

Optimizing operations and the allocation of resources around organizational goals allows organizations to maximize care delivery and leads to improved patient services, better quality of care, and greater patient satisfaction.

What are the steps in the strategic planning process?

Developing a strong strategic plan is a complex and comprehensive process that requires broad involvement from stakeholders at various levels across an organization (see additional details on who should be involved below). At a fundamental level, strategic healthcare planning involves six key steps:

  1. Clarify your organization’s mission, vision, and values. Write a mission, vision, and values statement if the organization does not have one, or revisit the existing statement to determine if it still is appropriate and relevant.
  2. Perform a gap analysis. Evaluate your organization’s current resources and operations, including strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement to answer the question: Where are we now? Compare those findings to what is needed to achieve desired performance and determine what is needed to punch through that gap.
  3. Define organizational goals. Answer the question: Where do we want to go? Use the insights gleaned from the gap analysis to ensure these goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (S.M.A.R.T.).
  4. Formulate your strategies. Develop a plan for achieving organizational goals that builds on current strengths and aligns with the overall mission, vision, and values to answer: How will we get there? The strategies should provide clear, actionable directives focused on growth, cost containment, and process improvement. Use tools such as scenario planning to help translate the impacts of defined strategies on operations to find an optimal path forward, taking into account numerous factors such as regulatory changes, fluctuating payment models, and competitive pressures.
  5. Execute the strategic plan. Implement the plan by first communicating organizational goals and strategies to stakeholders across the organization. Whether the plan is successful largely hinges on having the engagement and active involvement of those individuals on the frontlines responsible for executing it.
  6. Monitor progress and recalibrate as necessary. Track key performance indicators (KPIs) relative to strategic goals on an ongoing basis to answer the questions: Are we focused on the right things? Are we achieving the results we planned for? If the organization starts to veer off course for any reason, assess the situation and adjust either the tactics or the plan as needed to get back on the right path. Tools such as rolling forecasts, executive reporting, and automated alerts or notifications can help healthcare finance teams monitor and trend organizational performance against established targets and respond quickly when issues arise.


Steps to Strategic Planning in Healthcare


What are the core components of an effective healthcare strategic plan?

Once the strategic plan is complete, it should include four key elements:

  1. Clear mission, vision, and values
  2. Defined objectives
  3. Detailed strategies and tactics
  4. Scorecards for monitoring progress


Who should be involved in the strategic healthcare planning process?

As previously mentioned, an effective strategic planning process requires broad involvement from stakeholders at various levels . This does not mean that the committee or team in charge of developing the strategic plan should be extensive. The core group should include diverse representation from across the organization without being overly large.

Depending on the size of the organization, a group of 10-15 people often is optimal, including the chief strategy officer and key leaders from various segments of the organization. In a hospital, for example, this likely would include the chief medical officer, chief nursing officer, and representatives from the Board of Trustees, patient relations, and other key areas. These individuals must act as proxies to their respective departments or groups and facilitate a strategic planning process that draws upon a wide range of opinions representing varied interests throughout the hospital.

Integrated Tools for Strategy Management

With Syntellis’ Axiom™ Strategy Management, healthcare organizations benefit from a comprehensive view of business performance that provides visibility into key performance measures. The solution includes tools that enable new initiatives to be modeled and evaluated, and features that promote collaboration in managing ongoing project milestones, with clear visibility into achievement related to project goals.

Key capabilities include:

  • Organizational structure of KPIs in context of strategic perspectives and business goals
  • Executive scorecards with role-based views of performance to goals
  • Initiatives planning and tracking, including ranking and scoring
  • Integration with Axiom solutions, including Budgeting, Performance Reporting, and Productivity
  • Data integration of KPI measures from other systems, including Axiom Decision Support

Learn more about Axiom Strategy Management Get a demo

“They really understand the business aspect of what we’re trying to accomplish, so their advice is spot-on. I’ve used some of their competitors’ solutions, and I can tell you this expertise is unique to Syntellis.”
Tim Wise, Decision Support Administrator, Valley View Health System