Like any field, strategic planning in health care can be a complex undertaking. It is one that involves as many people, processes, and goal-setting agendas as you could want. In addition, health care demands ethics, patients, and other components’ involvement in the process, too. When getting started – and to avoid falling down any rabbit holes as you chase other goals – keep your planning to attainable processes and reasonable timeframes. But before getting even that far, consider revisiting the basics of the exercise itself, such as definitions and how to get started. So, what is strategic planning in health care? How does it differ from other fields? What do you need to know about strategic planning to get started? Good news: all the information comes packaged in this guide.

What Is Strategic Planning in Health Care? 

Strategic planning in health care, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), refers to the process of defining an organization’s direction and making decisions that align with its long-term goals. It is an essential activity that enables health care organizations such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices to anticipate and respond to changes in the health care environment, while ensuring their services are effective, efficient, and sustainable.  

The AAMC outlines the following benefits of implementing strategic planning in health care organizations:  

  • Defining an overarching vision 
  • Identifying areas of excellence in which to invest 
  • Acquiring necessary resources for new initiatives 
  • Prioritizing critical issues 
  • Aligning goals so stakeholders are moving in a common direction 
  • Increasing motivation, commitment, and teamwork 
  • Enhancing communication 
  • Adapting more effectively to changing circumstances 
  • Positioning an organization to be competitive 
  • Developing shared criteria for evaluation 

Strategic planning in health care involves a comprehensive analysis of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This analysis is used to identify areas of improvement and develop strategies to help the organization achieve its goals. The strategies developed during the planning process are usually organized into a formal plan that guides the organization’s activities over the next several years.  

Why Is Strategic Planning Important in Health Care? 

Per strategic planning and analytics company Strata, strategic planning is important in health care for three reasons. First, it helps health care organizations adapt to changes in the health care environment. Health care is a rapidly evolving field, and BusinessWire says organizations that fail to adapt to changes are at risk of falling behind. By engaging in strategic planning, health care organizations can anticipate and respond to changes in the health care environment, ensuring they remain relevant and effective.

Second, strategic planning helps organizations align their resources with their goals. Health care organizations have limited resources, and they must use them effectively to achieve their objectives. Planning resources site Achieve It asserts that by engaging in strategic planning, health care organizations can identify their most critical needs and allocate resources accordingly, ensuring they achieve the greatest impact. 

Third, strategic planning helps organizations set priorities and make difficult decisions. Health care organizations are often faced with difficult choices, such as deciding which services to continue to offer and which to discontinue. By engaging in strategic planning, health care organizations can weigh the pros and cons of various options and make informed decisions that align with their long-term goals.  

What Is an Example of Strategic Planning in Health Care? 

The American Heart Association (AHA) is an excellent example of an organization that used strategic planning to achieve its goals. As a nonprofit organization, the AHA has a clear mission: to advance the health of all individuals and communities. To achieve their mission, the AHA recognized the importance of setting ambitious goals and developing a comprehensive strategic plan. 

In 2018, the AHA launched a strategic plan that set a clear direction for the organization over the next decade. The plan aimed to reduce the incidence of heart disease and stroke by 20% by 2020, improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% by 2020, and increase the number of people who receive CPR training and are prepared to respond to cardiac emergencies. These goals were ambitious, but the AHA recognized the importance of setting challenging targets to drive progress and improve outcomes for patients. 

To achieve their goals, the AHA developed a comprehensive plan that included a wide range of activities. One critical aspect of the plan was funding research to better understand the causes and treatments of cardiovascular disease. By investing in research, the AHA could advance the field of cardiology and develop new therapies that could improve patient outcomes. 

Another critical aspect of the plan was educating the public about heart health, provided in part by the AHA’s resources. The AHA recognized that many people were unaware of the risks of heart disease and the steps they could take to reduce their risk. To address this issue, the AHA developed educational programs that aimed to increase awareness of heart disease and improve health literacy among the general public.  

The AHA also recognized the importance of advocating for policies that support heart health. For example, the organization worked to promote policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity, such as advocating for improved school nutrition standards and increasing access to safe places for exercise.  

To measure progress toward its goals, the AHA developed metrics to track the impact of each initiative. For example, the organization tracked the number of people who received CPR training, the number of public policies that supported heart health, and the incidence of heart disease and stroke. By tracking these metrics, the AHA could assess the effectiveness of its initiatives and make adjustments as needed to achieve its goals. 

The AHA’s strategic plan also included a system for evaluating the effectiveness of each initiative. The organization recognized the importance of continuous improvement and learning from experience. By evaluating the impact of each initiative, the AHA could identify what worked well and what could be improved in the future.  

Overall, the AHA’s strategic plan demonstrates the power of setting ambitious goals and developing a comprehensive plan to achieve them. By focusing on research, education, and advocacy, the AHA was able to make significant progress toward reducing the incidence of heart disease and helping to improve overall heart health. The organization’s use of metrics and evaluation ensured that it could track its progress and make adjustments as needed to achieve its goals. The AHA’s strategic plan demonstrates how health care organizations can implement strategic planning in an effort to achieve their mission.  

How Does Strategic Planning in Health Care Differ from Other Fields? 

While the basic principles of strategic planning apply to all fields, there are some unique features of strategic planning in health care that set it apart from other industries. According to Strata, one of the primary differences is the complexity of the health care environment. Health care is a highly regulated industry with multiple stakeholders, including patients, providers, insurers, and policymakers. The interactions between these stakeholders can be complicated and require careful consideration when developing a strategic plan. Strata argues:  

"Unlike traditional plans, strategic planning takes into account what is to come for every sector of the organization, taking into account foreseeable changes for all departments. The importance of strategic planning in health care is also seen when looking at an organization’s productivity."

Another difference is the high degree of uncertainty in the health care industry. Advances in technology, changes in policies, and shifts in patient demographics can all have a significant impact on health care organizations. As a result, health care strategic plans must be adaptable and able to respond to changes quickly.  

Finally, researchers Ferarri, Manotti, Balestrino, and Fabi argue that health care organizations must consider the ethical implications of their strategic decisions. These decisions can have a significant impact on people’s lives. As a result, health care strategic planning must carefully consider each decision's ethical implications. 

How to Implement a Strategic Plan in Six Simple Steps 

Implementing a strategic plan involves a series of steps that help ensure the organization can achieve its goals. With insights from HubSpot and Strata, the following are six steps to implementing a health care organization’s strategic plan: 

  1. Establish a clear vision and mission: The first step in implementing a strategic plan is to establish a clear vision and mission for the organization. This involves defining the organization’s purpose, values, goals, and objectives. Once the vision and mission are established, the organization can begin to develop strategies that align with these objectives.  
  2. Develop an action plan: After establishing the vision and mission, the organization needs to develop an action plan that outlines the specific steps it will take to achieve its goals. This plan should include a timeline, specific objectives, and measurable outcomes. 
  3. Communicate the plan: The organization must communicate the strategic plan to all stakeholders, including employees, patients, and the community. This helps build buy-in and ensures that everyone is working toward the same goals.  
  4. Allocate resources: The organization must allocate resources to support the plan. This may involve reallocating resources from less critical areas to more critical areas or securing additional funding. 
  5. Monitor progress: The organization must track progress toward its goals, measure outcomes, and adjust the plan as needed. This helps ensure the organization stays on-track and can make adjustments as needed.  
  6. Celebrate success: Celebrating success is an important part of implementing a strategic plan. Recognizing and celebrating achievements helps build momentum and encourages stakeholders to continue working toward the organization’s goals. 

Why Is Strategic Planning in Health Care Important? 

Strategic planning is a crucial process for health care organizations because the environment is continuously changing, with new technologies, regulations, and patient expectations emerging. By engaging in strategic planning, health care organizations can stay ahead of these changes and be better prepared for the future. For example, they can create a strategic plan to invest in telemedicine technology to provide remote care to patients or to implement ​​electronic health records to improve patient safety and care coordination. 

Health care organizations are typically limited when it comes to resources such as funding, staff, and physical space, to name a few. Strategic planning enables organizations to prioritize and make the best use of these resources. For instance, a hospital may choose to expand its cancer center instead of investing in a new outpatient clinic based on the needs of its patient population and available resources. 

Health care organizations often face challenging decisions, such as whether to invest in new technology, expand services, or close a struggling department. Strategic planning enables them to make these decisions in a systematic and thoughtful way, weighing the pros and cons and considering the impact on patients, staff, and the community. 

Strategic planning helps health care organizations align their resources with their goals. If a health care organization’s objective is to reduce readmissions, it may invest in care coordination programs and follow-up care for patients to achieve this goal. By aligning resources with goals, health care organizations can maximize the impact of their resources and achieve better outcomes. 

According to the Association of Project Management, engaging stakeholders — including patients, staff, and the community — is an essential part of strategic planning. By involving stakeholders in the planning process, organizations can ensure they are meeting the needs and expectations of those they serve. This can also help build buy-in and support for the organization’s goals. 

Efficiency and effectiveness are critical in health care organizations. Strategic planning enables them to identify areas where they can improve their performance. For example, a hospital may identify ways to streamline its discharge process to reduce the length of stay and improve patient outcomes. By improving efficiency and effectiveness, health care organizations can provide better care and use their resources more effectively. 

Many health care organizations are subject to regulatory requirements, such as those from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Strategic planning can help organizations ensure they are meeting these requirements and avoid potential penalties or other negative consequences. 

Strategic planning can promote innovation in health care organizations, asserts Lisa Miller in “Why Every Hospital Needs a Strategic Plan for Innovation.” By setting goals and priorities, health care organizations can encourage staff to think creatively and develop new approaches to care delivery. For example, a health care organization may develop a strategic plan to pilot a new care delivery model or implement a new technology to improve patient care. 

Lastly, strategic planning promotes accountability in health care organizations. By setting goals and tracking progress, health care organizations can hold themselves accountable for achieving their objectives. This can help drive performance and improve outcomes for patients, staff, and the community. 

Strategic planning enables organizations in health care to prepare for the future, prioritize their resources, make challenging decisions, align resources with goals, engage stakeholders, increase efficiency and effectiveness, meet regulatory requirements, promote innovation, and encourage accountability. Strategic planning allows health care organizations to improve the quality of care they provide and achieve better outcomes for patients, staff, and the community. 


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