Most owners and practice managers aren’t at a loss for ideas to improve the performance of their ophthalmology or optometry practice. Setting goals isn’t usually the problem—but achieving them is.
Why? Many eye care practices operate in the “putting out fires” mode. Doctors, managers, and staff are so busy taking care of patients and conducting the day-to-day business of running the practice that they don’t take time for planning. They don’t see the trends affecting their futures. They may feel that they’re saving time in the short term—and they are. But they’re also sabotaging themselves in the long run. That’s where strategic planning comes in.
Strategic planning is “a process that produces a plan for how the practice will accomplish its goals,” says Maureen Waddle, MBA, principal and senior consultant at BSM Consulting. The end product is your action plan—a description of the steps your practice will take to obtain the specific goals or results you want to achieve.
“A practice with a strategic plan and a commitment to implementation is ahead of over 90% of the competition,” Waddle emphasizes.
The strategic planning process looks different for every practice, but at its most basic level it consists of three parts, Waddle says. You’ll need to prepare by gathering information, meet with all stakeholders to hash out the details, and finally, implement the action plan and measure its success.
Tip: Not sure where to start? To begin the strategic planning process, start at the end. Have each physician and key manager write down his or her goals and objectives for the practice. Many people are surprised to find how far apart they are on their hopes and expectations for the practice.
Step 1: Prepare
You’ll need to spend a significant amount of time gathering and interpreting data and information. If that doesn’t sound fun, don’t worry—the “prep” step comprises the bulk of your efforts. You have to think like a businessman (or woman), says healthcare business consultant Michael J. Parshall. This means knowing your product, your customers, your market, your competitors, and your risks and advantages. (Hint: your practice management software should be able to help you analyze this data. Read more here.)
To start with, assess external market forces like industry news, changes in technology, payer trends, and government regulations, says Waddle. Next, look closer to home. What are your local demographics, growth rates, market share, major employers, and healthcare players?
Finally, perform a situational analysis of your practice to shore up your subjective feelings with facts. You can do this through a combination of benchmarking, surveys, a competitive analysis, or a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The key is to employ “an honest, data-supported evaluation that will guide you to identifying goals and actions,” says Waddle. If you’ve chosen well, your ophthalmology practice management software will be an invaluable tool here.
Step 2: Meet
Once you have the clearest picture possible of where your practice stands, prepare the information for presentation to the owners and other stakeholders. Waddle recommends summarizing your findings by reporting only key data—but having the details readily available. Whenever possible, use visuals like charts, graphs, and pictures to simplify your data points, she adds. Many people are visual learners and will tune out if bombarded with numbers, long paragraphs, or complicated spreadsheets.
What will this meeting look like? For smaller practices, it might be one meeting. For others (especially larger practices with many stakeholders) it might be a weekend retreat. Either way, your goal is to provide good information to fuel an honest discussion, says Waddle. You’ll review and vet opportunities, and agree on objectives, ownership, and communication.
Most importantly, you’ll develop an action plan that details all of the “next steps” for achieving your agreed-upon goals. An effective action plan includes a goal, a description of each task necessary to achieve it, the partner/manager in charge, the responsible parties, due dates, and a place for status updates and comments.
For example, say a practice wanted to enhance their customer service levels. One goal might be to reduce patient wait times to less than 15 minutes. Their action plan would lay out steps like:
- Mention online registration to every patient during their conformation call
- Review scheduling strategy for each physician
- Research and get estimate for “mobile queue” tool
Step 3: Do
The final step is to implement and measure your action plan. Successful implementation and follow up is what keeps strategic planning from turning into just another piece of warm and fuzzy—but meaningless—business jargon. It’s also the point when most practices that do get beyond the planning stage fail.
Here are the most common reasons that well-laid plans fall by the wayside, according to Waddle.
Reason #1: There’s no ownership.
Resolution: Designate an owner and responsible party for each item (remember, it’s not always the same person).
Reason #2: Lack of physician commitment.
Resolution: Engage physicians. Make sure it’s their goals and plan.
Reason #3: Lack of communication.
Resolution: Use your action plan and other status measures to provide updates.
Reason #4: The plan is overwhelming.
Resolution: Limit your objective to 3-5 at a time. Learn how to prioritize opportunities.
Reason #5: Strategy discussions only occur on an annual basis.
Resolution: Conduct informal strategy discussions in emails and shorter meetings.
Reason #6: Lack of progress reports.
Resolution: Consider tying incentives to achievements, and don’t forget to celebrate milestones.