Caring for the future: a six-step guide to healthcare strategic planning

In order to thrive, businesses and institutions need to have a clear purpose. The health sector is no exception – constantly buffeted by changes to finance, government policy, disease outbreaks and technology, healthcare institutions need to be robust enough to keep sight of their mission.

This is where strategic planning comes in. A tool used by organizations worldwide, strategic planning refocuses an organization on the ‘big picture’ by developing mission-led targets based on realistic assessments of the organization’s capabilities. In healthcare, strategic planning can produce a roadmap to guide operational decisions, ensuring that staff are all working toward the same principles. This improves efficiency and communication within healthcare institutions, and ensures a consistent standard of patient care when potentially life-altering decisions are made. 

Healthcare strategic planning is a crucial part of healthcare leadership. If this subject interests you, there are plenty of options for further study. For example, check out the UIndy nursing leadership program, an exciting opportunity to gain a master’s qualification in Nursing and Health Systems Leadership at the University of Indianapolis. This part-time online course is designed to accommodate working nurses and enable them to learn while they work.

Read on to discover how the strategic planning process can be applied to a healthcare setting with six simple steps.

Step 1: Review the mission

It’s time to go back to basics. First, you need to establish the purpose of the healthcare institution – what does it do, and who is it for? Consider business strategy, patient demographics, and the type of care that the institution offers. For example, the different funding models of for-profit hospitals and state-funded hospitals mean that the missions of these institutions will differ significantly. The mission must be clear and motivating as it will underpin the rest of the strategic planning process – review the existing mission to ensure that it is conducive to growth and improvement. 

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Step 2: Research

Strategic planning is all about the ‘big picture’. Before goals can be set, you need to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the healthcare institution. This is known as a SWOT analysis. Opportunities could include a growing patient demand for a certain service, whereas the growth of a competitor is likely to be a threat. Gather opinions from staff, patients, stakeholders and external opinions to ensure that your research is as comprehensive as possible. 

Step 3: Set realistic goals

This step involves establishing goals that correspond to the mission identified in Step 1, informed by the SWOT research in Step 2. Effective goals are measurable, have a set timeframe, and are achievable within operational constraints. For example, a target of 100 new ICU beds within one year is a redundant goal if it would take two years to recruit the staff required for this venture. 

Step 4: Develop a plan

Next, you need to outline the specific methods by which the strategic goals will be met. Who and what will be required to reach the targets, and how much will it cost? Communicate with departments to ensure that leaders are on board, establishing committees to facilitate the planning process and to allocate responsibility. Encouraging teamwork will boost motivation and accountability, increasing the likelihood of the changes being implemented successfully. 

Step 5: Execute the plan

Allocate the funding, resources and staff identified in the strategic plan. Ensure that logistical and financial provisions work as planned, and make sure that staff members in relevant departments understand their role in implementing change. Delegating responsibility means that each staff member feels that they are able to make a difference (include junior staff as well as executives).

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Step 6: Evaluate and adjust  

No matter how great a plan may look on paper, things may not go as smoothly in practice. The strategic plan may face unforeseen obstacles, logistical challenges or other impediments. Therefore, progress should be regularly monitored and evaluated in order to quickly identify any issues that may inhibit the realization of the goals. A good strategic plan is not set in stone – it is adaptable to new challenges and shifting priorities. Keep reviewing the goals and fine-tuning the plan so that it remains relevant and achievable. 

Securing healthcare for the future

Strategic planning enables healthcare providers to work toward their mission, even when dealing with internal and external pressure. Healthcare management skills promise to be increasingly invaluable in the coming decades as the healthcare system faces new challenges in the fast-paced modern world. 

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