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Using Epidemiology in the Strategic Planning Process

There are multiple factors to consider when building a strategic plan; competition, quality and care experience, culture, and market and industry innovation, are just a few of the most critical components. It is often said that sound strategy development is both an art and a science – requiring planners to blend intuition and creative problem solving with data analysis and application of objective methodologies.  One discipline within the “science” of planning that may not be top of mind for most planners is epidemiology.  The study of the spread and control of disease will be paramount as more health care organizations enter into a population health management structure.

The use that has the most direct impact to a hospital would be the projected use rates of a population. Those hospitals looking to grow services can use this science to identify what services will be most utilized and which services need to be expanded to capture more patients. Conversely, the same sets of data can show which services need less resource support and also identify certain procedures that could be avoided by targeted interventions. As an example some cardiology procedures may be avoided by increased focus on populations with high risk of hypertension. This would show the strategic planner where they needed to focus their hypertension and cardiology clinics while also allowing them to shift resources way from a cardiac surgery center. In the current market this would seem impractical as surgeries yield higher revenue than clinical visits, but in a population health management environment health care organizations must try and avoid admissions.

Furthermore, many strategic planners use market data to identify the potential areas for growth. However using an epidemiological approach allows a planner to adjust for multiple factors while also identifying new areas for growth. For example it can be difficult to estimate the impact of increased ambulatory care when only looking at DRGs, CPTs, and other diagnostic data. However, when the population is looked at as a whole, and subcategorized into townships, zip codes, or counties, the story becomes clearer. Certain areas may be more prone to using these ambulatory services while others may not use the services that are shifting to an ambulatory setting. When a strategic plan uses the epidemiological principles of prevalence and incidence these trends become clearer.

Using this data an organization can strategically grow and focus certain service lines into those areas with the highest need. This can help in resource allocation as well; the epidemiological principles will ensure that an organization’s resources are being placed in the most impactful areas. Additionally, this process will be necessary as more health systems and hospitals become responsible for populations.

Does your organization use epidemiological principles when planning? Do you use other, less mainstream, ways to identify opportunities for growth and improvement?