Every otolaryngology group needs a chance to evaluate its organization outside the frenetic pace of day-to-day patient care. A practice retreat provides the opportunity to assess your operations, examine your mission and conduct strategic planning in a setting where physicians are relaxed and undistracted.
Explore this issue:December 2011
“A practice retreat provides a predetermined, committed period of time to discuss the future of the business,” said Jolene Eicher, COO of Advanced ENT and Allergy, a 14-physician practice in Louisville, Ky. Eicher also serves as executive advocate for the Association of Otolaryngology Administrators (AOA).
“No matter what their size, practices need to do some form of strategic planning,” added Reed Tinsley, a certified public accountant and healthcare consultant based in Houston, Texas. “Practices that are not proactive are guaranteed to lose money in the future.”
A period of tremendous growth or change, such as doubling your group’s size or constructing a satellite facility, might also serve as the impetus for a practice retreat. When Kevin Watson joined Colorado ENT and Allergy several years ago as administrator, he encouraged the Colorado Springs-based practice to hold annual retreats because the physicians wanted to grow the practice. The retreats helped the group construct a plan and establish a timeline to merge with another local practice, a goal that was achieved this year. “The merger wouldn’t have happened if we had not conducted a strategic planning retreat and decided that [this] approach was our way forward to position ourselves for the changes coming in health care,” Watson said.
Facilitator Sets the Tone
The first step to planning a retreat is to select a facilitator. Although some practices use their administrator, experts agree that an outside consultant adds impartial, fresh eyes to the process, especially for a group’s initial retreat. If the administrator is tasked with guiding the agenda, he or she can’t truly participate in the discussion. “The administrator needs to be free to think, dialogue and brainstorm with the rest of the team,” Eicher said.
Additionally, “someone needs to bring up the touchy issues,” said Tinsley. If high turnover is a problem, and a physician or administrator is responsible for staff departures, the issue may be “glossed over” unless an outsider facilitates the discussion.
A skilled retreat leader also adds value by ensuring that your meeting stays focused on the relevant strategic planning topics, thus making sure that everyone’s time, energy and money aren’t wasted. “The objective of an outside facilitator is to control the meeting, keep the meeting moving forward, manage personal agendas and lead the physicians to the development of an executable plan: a set of goals, strategies and tactics,” said Michael McCaslin, a principal at Health Care Team at Somerset CPAs in Indianapolis.