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Reimbursement and Practice Management

Strategic Planning: Set Your Sights on Success


In this Pulse article we’ll help you understand:

  • The keys to developing a successful business strategy
  • The ways to gather key information
  • Strategies for performing a successful planning session
  • The importance of evaluating progress on your strategic goals

View related pearls


To be successful in today's challenging environment, medical practices need strong strategies and realistic plans. Strategic planning is the process of establishing a roadmap to reach important goals in support of your practice's mission. A coordinated plan of action is the cornerstone of a successful medical practice. Smart strategic planning involves a number of basic steps.


Gather Business Intelligence

Charges, collections, and accounts receivable reports offer important data about how your practice is doing. Strategic planning is an opportunity to turn this data into business intelligence to help you plan for the future. The information you collect will assist you in understanding the market and making determinations about the years ahead.

First, assemble and analyze data about your revenue and expenses for the past three years. Compare your data to industry benchmarks. Review data about your referring physicians and your average payer mix. Collect information about recent and anticipated changes in regulations, reimbursement, and other areas that may impact your practice.

Next, mark your practice location(s) on a map, as well as those of your competitors. Add U.S. Census data such as population counts, income levels, and other demographics by zip code for your community. Supplement this data with qualitative information about your practice by asking physicians to respond to the following questions (a SWOT questionnaire): what are our practice's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Keep the survey replies anonymous so you'll get candid responses, or hire a consultant to conduct the interviews.


Conduct a Planning Session

Hold a planning session (6-8 hours) with the physicians and top-level managers in your practice, preferably off-site. Ask someone in attendance to record the session proceedings (recordings or notes) so that you have an accounting of what transpires. Hire an outside facilitator or choose a member of your team to keep discussions on track and on time and to engage all participants.

Prepare a written agenda for the meeting. Start the session by establishing a mission for your practice or updating the existing mission, as necessary. Review and discuss your business intelligence (data, SWOT summary, competitive analysis, etc.) to formulate what is called a "situational analysis." Using your mission and the situational analysis, develop a vision for the current year and for the near term (three-to-five years). Map out specific, measurable tactics (actions) to achieve your vision. It is likely that you will need to establish priorities, as you may not have the resources to accomplish every goal you might wish to set. Decide who will be responsible for each action, as well as time frames for reaching key milestones.

You will want to conclude the planning session with a commitment to the mission and a course of action. Signing off on the strategic planning document at the end of the session will show attendees' support.


Write a Formal Plan

Write up the strategic plan and distribute it to all key stakeholders soon after the planning session. Much of the business intelligence and critical milestones may be information to keep in house, but the broader strategies should be shared with staff and external parties, such as referring physicians, who have an interest in your practice's success.


Evaluate Progress

Incorporate the goals outlined in your strategic plan into staff responsibilities and evaluations. Assess the progress you are making toward reaching your goals at regular intervals and provide updates to physicians and staff. Don't hesitate to reassess your goals or reprioritize as situations change. New competition, changing regulations, payer rules, or even physician retirements can cause plans to change. Inflexibility about a strategic plan can be as problematic as lack of planning.

A strategic plan can't predict or avert every challenge or crisis, but a strong plan will give your practice a clear roadmap toward success no matter how challenging the environment.

Pearl 10/01/09

Planning Session Preparations

"Plan to have everyone help plan – invite participation from across the entire medical practice."

With busy patient schedules, more complex business and clinical protocols -- comes increased work demands for everyone in the practice. Respectful of the busy schedules, it is also important for the whole medical group – individually and collectively -- to have an opportunity to provide planning input. The practice manager or lead physician can make it easy by hosting a blue-sky open-door session at a convenient location in the practice a few weeks prior to the strategic planning meeting. This session can be held over several days, provide anonymity, include brainstorming, and even be made fun. Input on competition, changes in care patterns, new technologies, feedback from referral sources, patients, and payers can come from just about anyone in the practice. And importantly, the staff may have some great ideas about how to ensure a successful practice for years to come. The invitation to participate "up front" can be a great way to get everyone "on board" for the future of the medical group.

United States