Nov. 28, 2018

Why every hospital needs a strategic planning session right now

 In early November, the National Healthcare Service posted on their Facebook page that every hospital should formulate its own vision for future development. It’s actually a practical, not a philosophical advice. When the management team has a clear goal and adheres to well-defined principles in their work, the life of their medical institution becomes more meaningful and productive.

Strategic Planning Sessions (SPSs) are a set of measures that not only help hospital administrations define their goals, but also help them develop their own path toward those goals based on their specific situation.

Who needs SPSs in a hospital

Before the reform, communal medical institutions used to be subunits of a nation-wide system and had to pursue goals dictated by the Ministry of Healthcare. Now though, after going autonomous, each hospital is becoming an independent entity. Head physicians (administrators), however, are accustomed to working in a highly centralized system when all orders come from the powers that be. This has resulted in a situation when people are given the freedom but don’t know what to do with it. Obviously, the first step should be strategic planning of the institution’s activities. The aim of SPSs is to create a work plan: long term - for three to four years, and short term - for a year ahead.

Many hospital administrators in our country right now regard strategic planning sessions as something vague and incomprehensible. In international practice, however, they’ve been used for decades as an effective tool for determining a medical institution’s development strategy.

The Ministry of Healthcare also issued an order that separates the positions of head physician and hospital director. The director handles general managerial issues, such as economic and financial activities, in particular:

  • organizing strategic planning and implementing it;
  • forming the budget;
  • carrying out general coordination of the institution’s activities, etc.

The head physician (aka medical director) will be responsible for everything related to the institution’s medical activities. This will help create a management team in each medical institution, making SPSs the basis for further productive work.

In countries with sufficiently advanced and effective systems of healthcare, management functions have long been divided between administrative and medical directors, and often also a director responsible for patient care (care director). Learn more of how this works at a clinic in Ortenau, Germany, here.

Three outcomes of SPS for a medical institution

1. Strategic Development Plan. It helps decide what to do right now to get where you want in a few years.

2. Strategic team of the institution. The head physician will no longer be the sole person responsible for everything that goes on at the hospital - responsibility for strategic development should be distributed among members of the strategic team, which includes employees (economists, lawyers, senior nurses, etc.) that not simply understand the strategy, but took part in creating it themselves and accept the task of implementing it. It is for creating such teams that SPSs are used for. SPS, among other things, is a team-building instrument.

3. Strategic management skills. Right now hospitals are run by people with no experience of managing an autonomous enterprise. Head physicians, chief accountants, chief economists - they all used to run institutions that existed in a highly centralized system.

SPS is a training session, during which managers learn to understand the market, analyze it, react to its changes, build their strategy based on this information and so on. In a certain amount of time determined by the team, the strategy should be revised live by discovering and analyzing the weak points and getting to understand why the desired outcomes have not been achieved. The management team essentially learns to constantly improve itself by studying its mistakes and successes.

Alternatives to SPSs

The majority of medical institutions today have outdated structure and organizational processes, as well as a system of personnel motivation that is unsuitable for new conditions and opportunities. To address this and, most importantly, bring everything in line with real life and strategies, we need SPSs. These sessions help the management direct all aspects into a single process, so that the medical institution could work as an integral mechanism and be able to achieve its goals. Also, possessing an understanding of the institution’s further development, the head physician will be able to openly discuss with the staff issues that are of particular interest to most of them - what changes they are facing, whether they are really necessary, and what opportunities they present for each of them.

Without a strategy, hospital will be taking some steps, making changes, improving this or that: some renovation here, a purchase there, a bonus for employees, etc. On the whole, however, this will be walking in circles rather than moving forward. Over time, such medical institutions will grow less competitive; they will eventually become unprofitable and get kicked from the market, turning into a burden for the local budget, since medical subventions will only be provided by the end of 2020.

SPSs might initially seem like a complex and mystifying process, but our team already followed it through  with a number of primary and secondary healthcare facilities. We would begin by working with change leaders and then spread the best practices among those willing to give it a try. Later on the changes were taken up by those who had seen their benefits and witnessed the success enjoyed by the pioneers, and then finally our experts would start working with a torrent of other medical institutions.

If you wish to be a leader of an efficient and self-sufficient medical institution, develop a strategy, involve the staff in this process, consult representatives of the public and plan several years ahead - this is the recipe for success that you can use today.