Improved profitability. Increased clarity. A talented and dedicated pool of employees. Defined structure. A less stressful and chaotic environment.
These are all traits any business would like to possess. They are not simply a pipe dream, though. Each one — and more — can be achieved by doing one thing: planning.
You might think that planning is impossible in an industry as rapidly changing and busy as healthcare. However, it’s not only possible but necessary for providing high-quality care while maintaining essential parts of the business like a skilled workforce and an up-to-date facility.
As we mentioned in our white paper, planning aids in protecting, stabilizing, and strengthening a business to make it more likely to sustain and improve clinical, operational and financial performance. For healthcare practices, in addition to enabling them to better evaluate and prepare for threats and weaknesses, it offers a proactive approach for staying on top of regulatory rules, advances in technology, economic and care trends and funding opportunities.
Primary Types of Planning
If planning is so easy and offers so many benefits, why aren’t more practices investing in the process? Some only plan for the short-term, while others focus only on long-term planning. Another obstacle is not knowing what type(s) of planning to utilize.
Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this challenge, some type of plan — one that assesses the current business environment, both internally and externally, and establishes future goals and targets — is. The primary types of planning include strategic, tactical, operational, and contingency.
This type of planning often gets confused with business planning. But, business plans are utilized to start a new venture and focus on funding and the structuring of operations.
Plans help businesses create a roadmap to follow to meet their detailed objectives — along with what steps to take to alter that route when necessary or advisable. Components of a strategic plan commonly include a vision, goals, principles, an action plan and a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.
Strategies are broad approaches to meeting a goal, while tactics are specific actions needed to reach the goals. A strategic plan without tactics makes it more difficult to implement the plan and achieve its goals.
Typically a type of short-term planning, tactical planning is geared toward specific, distinctive and deliverable tactics that often demand immediate results. For example, a healthcare practice conducting tactical planning would possess a goal-oriented timeline with targets for next three to twelve months. Maybe the practice wants to organize an employee survey to gather data on job satisfaction or provide training to ensure compliance with a new government or insurance regulation.
Tactical plans can be broken down into the department level to help identify how the overall strategic plan will be accomplished. Goals that are tactical are those that define the outcomes that these departments must achieve in order for the organization to reach its overall goals.
By outlining the crucial activities and targets a practice will tackle during a period of time — typically one year — operational planning provides the framework for its day-to-day operations. As with tactical planning, it aids in supporting the overall strategic plan and ensures it’s delivered effectively.
Basically, operational planning includes the “who, what, when and how much” components of the strategic plan. The who consists of the individuals who have responsibility for each of the tasks, and the what is which strategies and tasks that should be completed. The when of operational planning includes the timeline on which these tasks should be done, and the how much is the number of resources that should be provided to help achieve them.
Think of contingency planning as the “what if” or “what happens when” preparation part of the strategic plan. The goal is for the practice to return to normal daily operations if an unforeseen event occurs and reduce the risk of costly downtime and disruption of patient care.
An example of contingency planning in healthcare is preparing financial and human resources for unexpected adverse events, like staff/provider departures, equipment/facility shutdown, or a natural disaster. That way, there are extra resources available to meet the unanticipated demand. The advantages of contingency planning may include lower insurance rates, reduced liability, increased patient and staff satisfaction, and an enhanced reputation.
The Benefits of Proactive Planning
It is important that a practice’s planning aligns with its mission and vision and is developed with the most up-to-date data possible. The plan should include measurable and quantitative criteria — along with a timeline and budget — that match the practice’s priorities and differentiate it from competitors. Once the plan is complete, it should be documented and communicated to all staff members within the practice, from the leadership to the front-line staff.
As we’ve mentioned in previous pieces, advantages that can be realized by healthcare practices who engage in planning include:
● Attainment of optimal standards of patient care
● Optimized delivery of healthcare services
● Streamlined clinical operations
● More targeted investments in facility improvements
● Improved preparation for potential disruptions (i.e., the COVID-19 pandemic)
● Enhanced supply chain management
● Better prioritization of issues important to patients and staff
● Improved communication between departments
● Optimized resource management
The Costly Consequences of Failing to Plan
What happens when a healthcare practice fails to plan appropriately — or not at all? Not only are there often budget overages or shortages or delays of resources like supplies and staff, there also are increased expenses, inefficient use of resources, and a loss of trust from patients and motivation from staff members. Cash flow issues are common, including expenses from late and extra interest payments and costs that would have been adequately covered in a strategic plan.
Lack of planning sometimes points toward indifference and results in missed opportunities for practice growth and issues with patient care delivery. Increased threats and exposure to unpredicted high risks also materialize. Even if a healthcare practice details specific goals, without sufficient planning, there’s no way to measure and demonstrate corresponding results.
At SpringParker, we offer expertise and experience in healthcare strategy development, performance optimization, organizational transformation, problem solving, change management, analytics and innovation. We know that success in healthcare begins with developing, implementing and executing plans and strategies that make sense — now and in the future. Contact us today to learn more!