Future-focused healthcare leaders maintain robust strategic planning processes to ensure a strong mission, goals, and roadmap for their organizations.
Strategic planning provides an avenue for hospitals, health systems, physician practices, and other healthcare organizations to chart a course to achieving long-term sustainability and success in a dynamic healthcare environment. Leaders can leverage the process to identify and tackle a broad range of challenges, from internal staffing issues to emerging competitors or shifting patient preferences.
Examples of the benefits of strategic planning in healthcare include building alignment across the organization, mitigating risks, optimizing efficiencies, enhancing patient satisfaction, and improving care quality and outcomes.
Elements of strategic planning
Key elements of strategic planning in healthcare include:
Mission and vision
A hospital mission statement defines an organization’s primary identity and purpose within the communities it serves, while the vision statement provides its view for the future. Having a clear mission and vision help ensure stakeholders are aligned and focused on common goals.
Healthcare leaders use a SWOT analysis to identify an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for improvement, and threats. For example, a strength may be the organization’s brand name and standing within the community, and a weakness may be an overwhelming focus on inpatient services. Expanding outpatient care services is an example of an opportunity, while a threat may be competition from retail healthcare providers who offer more convenient care options.
The comprehensive SWOT analysis of both internal operations and external factors is a crucial part of the healthcare strategic planning process in defining the entity’s current state and future opportunities.
Goals and objectives
Healthcare leaders use insights gained from the SWOT analysis to define the organization’s goals and objectives. Using scenario modeling allows them to test various strategies or combinations of strategies to identify realistic, effective, and measurable objectives.
Another vital element in ensuring realistic and actionable goals is engaging stakeholders organization-wide in the healthcare strategic planning process. Gathering broad input from individuals at various levels builds buy-in and helps them feel more invested and motivated in helping to achieve the overall goals and objectives.
Examples of strategic planning in healthcare
Healthcare leaders can incorporate a wide range of initiatives as part of the strategic planning process, depending on the needs and goals of the organization. Three examples of such initiatives include:
A regional hospital sought to expand services in a growing community on the edge of its service area. To evaluate the opportunity for its strategic plan, health system leaders analyzed market data, including existing healthcare services, potential competitors, referral trends, population growth, and demographic trends.
The analyses revealed a dearth of healthcare options in the target community. Rapid population growth had outpaced the addition of new businesses and services as the area transitioned from rural to suburban. The need for emergency care was the most pressing, as residents had to drive more than 30 minutes to the closest hospital emergency department.
Using local market data to bolster its case, the health system successfully won a competitive application process to gain state approval to build a free-standing emergency department in the community. The new facility allowed the health system to extend much-needed services to the area and establish a foundation from which to expand with additional services in the future.
Improving patient safety
As another example of strategic planning in hospitals, leaders at a community hospital identified a need to improve patient safety at a skilled nursing facility (SNF) the hospital had recently acquired. The SNF once had an excellent reputation, but care quality had suffered in recent years due to long-running labor shortages. Hospital leaders did a thorough review of the SNF’s operations, including scheduling, staffing levels, patient flow, safety practices, and patient care and outcomes.
The review revealed two primary deficiencies. First, the SNF was not adequately adjusting staffing levels to correspond with changes in patient demand. Second, patient safety protocols were not consistently followed, having fallen off over time due to inadequate staffing.
To address these challenges, the hospital worked with executives and clinical nurse leaders at the SNF to revise scheduling practices to better flex staff levels with patient demand, including using modeling tools to project changes in patient demand. They also boosted recruitment efforts, including partnering with a nearby nursing school to offer incentives for students to work at the SNF after graduation.
Leaders updated patient safety protocols to align with current, proven best practices and established safety officers to lead implementation and build accountability across the facility. With these changes, the hospital succeeded in significantly improving patient safety at the SNF, including reducing patient falls, bedsores, and other adverse events.
Health system integration
Leaders at two mid-sized health systems wanted to ensure a smooth transition as the entities integrated their operations and services. The organizations were merging as part of a broader strategic plan to strengthen overall healthcare services within their communities and their combined financial health amid a turbulent economy.
In developing an integration plan, leaders brought in a third-party consultant to evaluate factors such as services, operations, leadership structures, market demand, payer contracts, and organizational cultures at each health system. Armed with those insights, the organizations identified numerous opportunities — including duplicative services that could be combined for greater economies of scale, service line gaps that could be addressed by shifting resources from closing facilities to new areas, and a need to renegotiate payer contracts to make them more favorable for the larger, combined organization.
As with many mergers, leaders faced reluctance from some long-term clinical leaders and staff who were concerned about integrating with a previous competitor. Leaders developed a robust communication plan to address these concerns with staff and other community stakeholders and raise awareness about the business case for the merger. They also built buy-in by seeking input from individuals at various levels across both organizations, and identified common cultural priorities that could be leveraged in developing a unified identity.
Through these efforts, health system leaders developed a comprehensive strategic plan for integration, including new mission, vision, and values statements for the combined entity, and a leadership structure that drew legacy leaders from both health systems to emphasize it as a merger of equals.
As these examples of strategic planning in healthcare organizations illustrate, leaders routinely encounter a variety of challenges as markets continually shift and patient preferences evolve. The strategic planning process provides a rigorous process for organizations to assess these challenges, identify opportunities, and develop thoughtful, data-driven strategies to move their organizations forward toward long-term success.