Strategic Planning for Oncology Services
Part 1: Common Challenges

Strategic planning is often a frustrating activity, arguably never more so than for oncology. So many departments are involved in oncology care and often those departments report to leaders who are not involved in or familiar with oncology. It can be extremely difficult to get those leaders and departments to participate in the planning, and if they do not participate, it is far less likely that they will do what is necessary in order for the oncology strategies to be implemented.

One example might be an initiative to develop a screening program that impacts on radiology can be derailed if radiology does not support additional equipment, staffing, or changes to how the radiology department staff and physicians operate. Similarly, a strategic initiative to develop a true breast center that would not only impact on mammography that falls under radiology could die on the vine for the same reasons. In addition, that breast center initiative might call for physicians to function differently and if they could resist if they didn’t buy in to the value of the concept.

Additional examples include support services and physicians. When patient support services report centrally, it can be impossible to implement initiatives that call for new staff, new skills, or new time commitments. If physician care is provided by physicians who are not committed to the service line, their willingness to spend the time and energy to implement a second opinion or multi-disciplinary clinic may not be forthcoming.

Further challenges may come if senior leadership does not understand some of the external issues that drive oncology-specific initiatives. For example, new treatment approaches can have a substantial impact on physician and non-physician staffing, care management, patient support services, major capital needs, facility, and more. If the C-suite does not have a good understanding of the clinical advances taking place in the world, it will be nearly impossible to gain the support and approval to acquire new technology or to ask other departments to change.

How can an oncology executive mitigate these challenges? That will depend to some degree on the institution’s culture. In the best of all worlds, gathering a planning team that includes individuals who will champion the plan with their respective colleagues is the best bet. When the plan is developed by such a team, there will be buy-in for the resultant strategic initiatives. And there will be physician and administrative leaders who will advocate for implementation of the initiatives with their peers.

Teri U. Guidi, MBA, FAAMA is the President and CEO of Oncology Management Consulting Group of Tampa, FL. She can be reached at tguidi@oncologymgmt.com<