For years, leaders at Asheville, N.C.-based Mission Hospital—the flagship of a 1,000-bed, five-hospital, not-for-profit system—had been developing strategic plans for their service lines that supported the health system’s goals and were grounded in extensive data. But the timing was off.
“The planning process for our core service lines was either happening simultaneously to the development of the annual budget, or it was coming after, in which case we were writing the business plans after budgets were complete,” says Kate Schmitz, MHA, vice president of service line planning and business support. “It wasn’t our intent, but it continually happened that way due to the increasing volume of strategic planning projects our team was asked to facilitate.”
In November 2011, a three-person service line planning team set out to redesign the process so that it would be in sync with the annual budget cycle—which meant starting the planning process three to six months earlier.
Driven by a directive from the hospital’s CEO to move the service line planning process ahead of the budget process, the team assessed what worked and what needed to be changed. Of the elements that were working well, three stood out:
The list of needed improvements to the process was more extensive:
A critical step in the redesign process was creating a calendar that ensured the CEO’s charge was achievable each and every fiscal year. Because Mission’s fiscal year runs from October to September, the hospital’s planning cycle was reconfigured into four quarters, each with specific tasks and objectives. The exhibit, below, shows the key steps in each phase. As part of the redesign, the team allowed more time for pre-planning tasks so the business plans could be completed in time for inclusion in the annual capital and operating budgets.
In addition to creating the calendar, one of the most critical aspects of the redesign was determining which data provided the greatest strategic value in the pre-planning phase, according to Cathi Durham, MBA, MHA, director, business development and strategy. “We asked ourselves, does this data have strategic importance? Does it help support the decision-making process? If not, we pulled it out.”
Specifically, the planning team—which includes Schmitz, Durham, and a senior planning analyst—was able to eliminate scores of data elements related to operational, quality, and productivity measures that were being regularly reported and intensely monitored in other venues. While critically important, the reporting of such measures in the strategic plan ended up being static and didn’t offer much insight into the strategic direction of the service line. “The plans needed to focus on enhancing and growing services that are financially viable and demanded by the community, not on answering every single question about the service line,” Durham says.
The planning team also trimmed the breadth and depth of market data they analyzed and shared with the service line planning teams. “We were doing a deep dive on every market and service, and it was taking days to manipulate the data by county, service, and facility,” Durham says. The team decided to focus only on those areas that indicated a market opportunity or vulnerability. “With less time spent in the data weeds, we have more time during the pre-planning phase to actually think and draw initial conclusions to share with service line leadership,” Schmitz adds.
A sharper focus has also helped make planning meetings with the service lines more meaningful, she adds. Before the redesign, Schmitz and her colleagues spent most of their meeting time presenting data. “Now we are able to spend more time in the qualitative aspects of the service strategy and facilitating discussions about where we need to be, how will we get there, and how we are going to measure it,” Schmitz says.
In addition to streamlining the data, standardized templates for the plans and pro formas were developed, which further enabled the development of multiple plans simultaneously. Not only did standardization reduce the amount of time required to develop the core data elements and analyses, it also facilitated reporting and communication of the plans, Schmitz says. “Prior to the redesign, senior leadership reviewed multiple plans in multiple formats and at different time intervals. Now they receive a recognizable product that they can more quickly review and find the answers to their questions,” she says.
With a small team of planners and a growing list of services to support, the planning team realized that it needed to adopt and employ tools to automate as much of the data formatting and reporting as possible. Now the team uses a commercially available data visualization tool to automate its quarterly market share reporting.
“We have created templates for each service line and are able to develop highly detailed reports by service area and sub-service lines within two weeks versus two months,” Durham says. “This allows the team to provide more regular reporting of market presence and trends, and as a result, service line leaders have a much deeper understanding of their service line market position.”
According to Schmitz, the core service line planning teams at Mission Hospital were designed to balance strategic visioning with operational and financial reality. The teams include the service line vice president, the service line director, a business manager, physician leaders, and select stakeholders. The teams are coordinated and facilitated by the designated planning liaison.
Mission Hospital has a group of business managers who report to Schmitz and are assigned to specific service lines to work directly with the service line leadership teams on financial and statistical data needs. They collaborate routinely with the decision support team and the budget team in the finance department on complex data extracts, pro forma development, annual budgeting, and a host of other ad hoc data needs and analyses. “These individuals are the key component to ensuring that the strategic planning process has a significant tie to the service line annual budget and to tracking and monitoring the impact of strategic initiatives,” Schmitz says.
Schmitz and Durham say the redesign has led to a more results-oriented strategic planning process at the service line level. They offer these suggestions to other organizations looking to revamp their planning approach:
Automate and simplify data collection whenever possible. Mission Hospital developed a resource library to facilitate access to the most recent data and analyses. The resource library is a simple, Excel-based tool with hyperlinks to the most recent data and formatted charts and graphs. Having quick access to data sources helps planning members save time and preserves the “source of truth” for each data element, thereby avoiding conflict arising from multiple data sources, Durham says.
Develop a dashboard to keep the momentum going. Service line leaders at Mission Hospital use a dashboard to help implement their strategic plan and track their progress (see the exhibit below). They can also pull metrics from the dashboards to use in their status updates. Finally, Schmitz recommends viewing the planning process as a continual cycle. The process should focus just as much on implementation and tracking as it does on plan development, she says.
Laura Ramos Hegwer is a freelance writer and editor based in Lake Bluff, Ill.
Interviewed for this article:Kate Schmitz, MHA, is vice president, planning and business support, Mission Hospital, Asheville, N.C.
Cathi Durham, MHA, is director, business development and strategy, Mission Hospital, Asheville, N.C.
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