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These 4 priorities should be on every independent group's 2021 strategic plan

By Sarah Hostetter

December 15, 2020

    We might expect that 2020 would dramatically change independent groups' 2021 priorities. However, instead of upending strategic plans, Covid-19 shined new light on evergreen priorities and moved some initiatives from the back burner to front and center. As groups head into the homestretch of their strategic planning process, here are the top four things on their to-do lists for next year.

    1. Make your workforce the foundation of your 2021 strategy

    After an incredibly challenging year, executives recognize they can't advance any of their 2021 strategic priorities with a disengaged and burnt out workforce. This means that in 2021, clinician and staff engagement—always an evergreen priority—will be more important than ever. To start, leaders are prioritizing these two initiatives:

    • Position yourself as the employer of choice for flexibility and work-life balance: Covid-19 exacerbated an evergreen challenge for most groups—recruiting and retaining clinical staff, especially medical assistants (MAs). At the same time, groups have fewer financial resources to invest in signing and retention bonuses. However, as the pandemic forces many staff to choose between employment and caregiving, independent groups can differentiate themselves from other employers by providing greater flexibility, work-life balance, and professional opportunities.

      Related resource: Four steps to increase medical assistant (MA) productivity and retention

    • Play a proactive role in employee well-being: 2020 has elevated the national dialogue around clinician and staff well-being. Leaders recognize they can't wait for their staff to sound the alarm bells. Instead, they need to proactively take steps to support wellness, resilience, and engagement. One of the most important things executives can do in early 2021 is invest in emotional support resources and promote their use through every channel available.

      Related resource: How Covid-19 will impact the clinical workforce

    2. Incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into every strategic priority

    DEI has always been on executives' to-do-lists—but it often ends up on the back burner. Between Covid-19's disproportionate impact on minority populations and protests around racial justice, the events of 2020 underscore that DEI can't be a standalone initiative. DEI must be a lens that executives apply to their entire strategic plan. Ultimately, DEI efforts should be owned by all levels and functions across the organization—not just by a dedicated lead or underrepresented employees. To start inflecting change, progressive groups are building an inclusive culture and addressing implicit bias in their own workforce.

    Related resource: Diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation starters

    3. Keep up momentum for value-based care

    Independent groups that already invested in population health are faring better during Covid-19, demonstrating the business case to take on more risk-based arrangements. To set their groups up for success in 2021, executives will be focused on two main population health initiatives:

    • Double down on closing care gaps as patients defer treatment: Covid-19 didn't change patient risk factors—but it did greatly exacerbate them. For example, far more patients are facing financial insecurity and behavioral health challenges than before. Executives will need to invest in more support to close care gaps, especially as the volume of patients postponing care increases. To intervene early, independent groups are honing their methodology for identifying this specific subset of patients by reviewing care gap data that might signal low utilization and leveraging their population health staff to bring these patients in for care.

      Related resource: 5 ways to adapt chronic disease management during Covid-19

    • Invest in supports and incentives to help physicians transition to risk: Prior to Covid-19, independent groups already had a relatively large percentage of revenue tied to risk-based contracts. While it's hard to say for certain whether the pandemic will accelerate or decelerate risk adoption, independent groups are focused on refining the capabilities they need to support physician success under value-based care. For example, there's renewed emphasis on access to data, coding support, and aligned compensation models.

      Related resource: How Covid-19 will impact value-based care

    4. Rebuild your ambulatory network for the future

    Some independent groups that had planned to expand in 2020 are now refocusing on rightsizing existing capabilities. While the year's financial losses are driving this change, leaders are not just focusing on cost management. Instead, they're using this opportunity to reinvent their practice for the future. Especially given the ongoing shifts to ambulatory care and risk-based payment models, groups are rightly considering where to invest in—and divest from—practice capabilities. As one executive put it: "If you started from scratch, what would the composition of your practice be?" Now is the time for leaders to think about the specialties and capabilities that best position their group for tomorrow's market.

    Related resource: Market Scenario Planner

    Prianca Pai and Eliza Campbell contributed to this post.

    Learn more: How Covid-19 will impact the clinical workforce


    Covid-19 has suspended long-standing clinical norms and turned the financial position of clinicians on its head. Read on for our four recommendations to promote clinician-led change.

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