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Published 1/1/2007
Marty Krawczyk

Time to get moving on strategic planning

Like most orthopaedic surgeons, you probably take a hands-on approach to problems. You don’t mind getting into the thick of things and tackling difficult issues. But when it comes to strategic planning, you hesitate. After all, your revenues are acceptable and your practice is running smoothly. So why bother?

The obvious answer is that developing a strategic plan is good for your bottom line and should be part of your practice’s governance framework. On the other hand, if you’ve been delaying developing a strategic plan for your practice, you may be questioning whether you really understand the process, really need a strategic plan, or have the time to work through the process.

You are a strategic planner

Perhaps you think the entire strategic planning process is overwhelming. Maybe you’re not really sure you have the skill or knowledge to develop a plan for your practice. If this is the case, you can relax and proceed. Both of these beliefs are bunk; here’s why:

First, remember that you’ve made it this far in life and in your career—through college, medical school, residency, all the way to operating your own practice, whether as a solo practitioner or as part of a group. Of course, you had a “roadmap” of sorts to get you where you are today. You had the passion and “vision” to become a doctor. You developed a “plan” and specific intermediate “goals.” You “evaluated” the options, assessed the “competition,” made “financial” decisions, and took “action” when you had to. You understood it would take “time” to achieve your goals, and you periodically “reassessed” both your plan and your goals, making appropriate “modifications.” You tried to be proactive whenever possible. If there were times you were reactive, you took action and made the adjustments needed.

As a result, you’ve reached your goal—you are a successful orthopaedic surgeon. And in doing so, you’ve been taking the same steps that you’ll need to take during your practice’s strategic planning process. You’ll recognize the “key words” above as the same words used in the development and monitoring of a strategic plan for your practice. Give yourself some credit—you’ve already been through the strategic planning process to get where you are today.

The AAOS also has resources available for your use if you need more technical knowledge related to the process of developing a plan. Visit the online Practice Management Center (under Physician Education on the AAOS Web site, www.aaos.org) for more information.

Do you need a strategic plan?

Yes. Once you develop a strategic plan for your practice, you have established a reference point for future decision-making. The strategic plan allows you to set goals and monitor the effects of both internal influences—such as increases or decreases in patient volumes or supply expenses—and external influences—such as reimbursements and competition—on your practice operations and goals.

But a strategic plan does more than just serve as a benchmark for your practice. For example, it gives you the ability to budget appropriately. If one of your goals is to expand the practice in three years by moving to a new facility, you can plan financially for this growth.

The strategic plan also helps you communicate more effectively. It serves as a written document that you can refer to when communicating with vendors, accountants, bankers, and business consultants. If you need a loan for that expansion, having a strategic plan will demonstrate your business acumen.

Finally, a strategic plan helps motivate and inspire your employees. By involving your employees in the development of a strategic plan, you invite them to share your goals. In turn, they will have a higher level of commitment to the practice, resulting in increased productivity and loyalty.

How long will it take?

Developing a strategic plan does take time. But if you believe that developing a strategic plan is important to your practice, you will reserve that time. The healthcare environment continues to change, particularly in the areas of reimbursement, pay-for-performance, and technology. To respond accordingly to these and other changes, and to sustain your practice and income, you will need a strategic plan as a necessary part of your business toolkit.

Do not be intimidated by the experts who say it takes months or years to develop a strategic plan. By being realistic in setting goals and by including others (such as your practice manager or administrator and staff) in developing the strategic plan, you will be able to complete the process in a reasonable timeframe.

A strategic plan does not have to include an exhaustive compilation of goals or details on every conceivable variable and action to be taken for the next three years. It can be a realistic, cost-effective process. Believe or not, you may even have some fun doing it. Upcoming issues of AAOS Now will include tips and suggestions on how best to develop a strategic plan.

Strategic planning is a process, and taking small steps will produce significant changes in the long run. You did not become a successful orthopaedic surgeon in a day, a week, or a month. Nurture the future of your orthopaedic practice as carefully as you nurtured your path to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon.

Marty Krawczyk is the practice management program coordinator. She can be reached at krawczyk@aaos.org or (847) 384-4337.