The Bridge

How consumerism is redefining the role of the hospital strategic planner

by Abigail Burns

Despite massive uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act and federal health care policy, one thing remains crystal clear: health care consumerism is real—and it's poised to disrupt nearly all aspects of hospital and health system strategy. Consequently, it's rapidly transforming hospital executive roles and responsibilities, perhaps none more so than the VP of Strategic Planning.

To understand both the "hows" and the "whys" of this job evolution, we recently surveyed more than 130 hospital and health system planners. Our survey findings strongly indicate that consumer demands for access, reliability, and affordability are reshaping hospital planners' roles and priorities in three key ways.

1. Planners have to develop new capabilities

While hospital planners have traditionally prioritized physician referrals and network development, they are now shifting more of their focus to activities designed to attract and retain consumers. Their central responsibilities still revolve around developing and executing on facility or system strategy, but they are now being asked to rethink those plans through the lens of consumer loyalty.

This presents a new challenge, however, as attracting and retaining a "retail-minded" consumer requires insights and capabilities that many of these planners (and their broader hospital leadership teams) lack.

Those capability gaps extend beyond just retail marketing strategies. They also extend beyond the acute care setting, as high-value patient experiences necessitate seamless handoffs and information flows across care sites—including the virtual realm of a patient's home or mobile device.

As shown in the graphic, today's hospital planners are spending less time on general planning and forecasting than they did three years ago, shifting that time instead toward partnership-building and business development. These activities are directly associated with filling those critical capability and care coordination gaps that would otherwise hinder a health system's ability to deliver on the vision of a seamless consumer experience.

Percent of planners' time spent on job responsibilities three years ago vs. today

Not surprisingly, survey respondents ranked "relationship and partner management" as the single most important skill for a hospital VP of Strategic Planning.

2. Health system planning systems are more centralized

Even with the right partnerships in place, health systems must still do more to attract and retain value-conscious consumers. They must ensure a consistent, coordinated experience while also delivering appropriately personalized care.

This tension between standardization and personalization has very real implications for health system strategic planners. Most notably, this tension between consistency and tailoring requires a holistic, system-wide view of strategy and branding.

As our survey results confirm, health systems are increasingly migrating from "trickle up" service line and facility plans to "trickle down" central plans that ensure greater brand coherence and shape execution at the site and department level. VPs of Strategic Planning thus play a greater role than ever in system-level master facility plans, ambulatory network development, service mix decisions, digital media outreach, and even product and brand standardization efforts.

3. Planners have more influence over purchasing and investment decisions

So even if your product or service never really attracted the attention of the Planning VP before, there's a good chance that you may start to encounter these executives more often. This is especially true if your product or service could impact a retail consumer's choice in health care provider or overall care delivery experience. The leaders of Advisory Board's Planning 20/20 solution offer the following suggestions:

  • Engage the planning executive. Proactively consider whether the VP of Strategic Planning may care about what you have to offer. Planners can help champion products or services that help them engage retail consumers more effectively.

  • Think about your customer's customer. Be sure to articulate how your product or service aligns with each hospital and health system's consumer engagement strategies. How can you help them attract and retain patients, and how can you help them navigate the tension of competing consumer demands for consistency and personalization?

  • Think big. Consider how your offering supports not only the health system's procedural, departmental, or facility goals, but how it advances their "systemness" ambitions as well.

How to create a brand your patients trust

Download our guide to learn what drives health system loyalty, how can you get ahead of this trend, and what you can do to ensure success.

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