President Trump signed an executive order within hours of taking the oath of office aimed at immediately lessening the economic burden of the Affordable Care Act. The actual promise to repeal and replace the ACA requires additional work by Congress and is creating a great deal of uncertainty in the healthcare marketplace.  This noise can easily distract and even paralyze healthcare leaders and their organizations.  In the interim, there are over 320 million lives to care for in the US.  The choice is to stand and watch or to engage in proactive strategic planning that focuses on shoring up core capabilities and creating competitive advantages.  Either way, healthcare organizations and practitioners will be tested for their resilience and change agility.

It is helpful to focus on what remains important including efforts to improve value (outcome/cost), contain costs, and enhance the patient experience through high-quality care, efficacy, and efficiency.   As you look to navigate through the uncertainties of 2017 and beyond, we would like to share with you the following strategic planning best practices:

  1. Accelerate efforts related to financial impact and cost containment.   Regardless of the ACA’s fate, it is all but certain that reduced margins can be expected with costs escalating faster than revenue, especially if there is an increase in the uninsured. Efforts should include initiatives to analyze and reduce costs at all levels.  Additionally,  consider allocating resources to understand, evaluate, and execute initiatives in the face of new policies and regulations.
  2. Make the competition irrelevant.  Basically, ask “what can be done to differentiate the organization from others in the marketplace?”  Identify the strengths that can lead to opportunities for revenue and market share growth.  “What can be done to make the competition irrelevant and distinguish your organization as best-in-class?  Thinking along these lines may require additional investments, forming new strategic alliances, or launching initiatives that bolster these strengths.
  3. Utilize scenario planning to anticipate potential outcomes and impact to your organization.  Engage your board of directors and/or senior leadership team to outline these likely scenarios in your healthcare environment.  Although difficult to think of all scenarios, this effort will most certainly uncover potential opportunities and threats.  Additionally, it will reduce the likelihood of your organization being completely “blind-sided” by market force changes.
  4. Prepare your workforce and enhance change agility.  One thing in the healthcare marketplace that is not changing is the pace.   Employees at all levels need the ability to guide others during times of uncertainty, as well as to drive change initiatives.  Leadership development efforts and change agility training for employees helps to boost engagement, foster greater alignment with organizational goals, and improve retention.
  5. Continue to streamline processes to improve clinical outcomes and population health.  Remember the shift toward population based outcomes will require capability development in information technology and continuum of care management.  Include strategic initiatives that accelerate employees’ ability to embrace technology and engage in proactive problem solving.

When revisited often, a dynamic, well-crafted strategic business plan executed properly helps to:

  • Provide clarity during times of confusion and change
  • Align leadership and employees around a vision rather than existing in the fierce world of reactive leadership
  • Motivate employees to participate in problem solving and implementation efforts
  • Improve decision making and leadership collaboration
  • Increase accountability for driving results

The dynamic healthcare environment will require leadership that takes strategic and operational planning seriously, despite the constant flux and confusion.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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