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The US Oncology Network Helps Practices Thrive Through Strategic Planning

Oncology is dramatically different today than when I entered the field 12 years ago. Practices are experiencing seismic changes in their environment and facing complex issues not previously encountered. While we cannot control the volatile landscape, strategic planning enables practices to prepare for what is coming, to take advantage of opportunities, and to set a direction for the practice that will position them for success.  

Building a roadmap to the future

The US Oncology Network (The Network) wants its physicians to do more than just survive. We want them to thrive in our ever-changing world. We place a strong focus on strategic planning by providing structured guidance and access to a wealth of valuable data to aid in decision-making. Our strategic planning process is a team effort that marries resources from the local and corporate levels to provide the most comprehensive package of information, tools, and expertise available. Our model enables us to develop plans to guide practices on their chosen path for three to five years, including detailed, annual action plans to execute on the practice’s overall priorities.

Day-long retreats are held, with planning starting six months in advance. Three months before each retreat, I meet individually with physician leadership and key management team members, gathering input on practice background, overarching concerns, potential strategic opportunities, and other information that helps us build a solid framework for the retreat. A joint committee is formed that is responsible for preparing the intellectual infrastructure. The Executive Director (ED) is intimately involved, as are other appropriate team members. Weekly team calls are held, and we collaborate to develop comprehensive material on market analytics, finance, business development, managed care and other significant topics. The information is extremely detailed, empowering leadership to make informed decisions.

Our goal during the retreat is to build consensus among the practice physicians and leadership on three to four strategic priorities. Action plans for the first three years are developed for each priority, including a very detailed plan for the first year, as well as a list of staff responsible for various tasks. The regional senior vice president (RSVP) and the ED lead the practice in executing the plans.

Strategic planning is a process that never ends. Each year we revisit the plan to determine if it is still valid, if it needs to be tweaked, or if we need to go back to the drawing board.

Bringing the plan to life

A practice can have the greatest plan in the world, but if there is no structure to ensure action, nothing happens. Following are a few best practices for executing a plan:

  • Set realistic timelines

Physician and staff time is limited. Initiatives may have to be prioritized one after the other to ensure proper execution. Dedicate necessary resources.

  • Financial resources will need to be budgeted and dedicated (when applicable).
  • Stick to the plan

Carefully consider any new ideas that are brought up after the plan is in place. Unless the idea is consistent with the chosen priorities, stay focused on the approved plan and save new ideas for a future plan revision.

Thrive, rather than just survive, with strategic planning

Successful oncology practices will navigate the evolving landscape with a well-thought-out roadmap to guide them on their journey.  An old African proverb sums it up perfectly: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”