Many doctors would classify the current economic downturn as a threat to their business. But others, even within the same practice, might view the financial climate as an opportunity for growth.
In the end, the important fact isn't how the situation is labeled, but that physician leaders are talking about it. And they are more likely to discuss what's going on in- and outside their office if their practice conducts an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
The purpose of a SWOT analysis is for a business to scrutinize these elements as it begins to create a strategic plan. Strengths and weaknesses refer only to internal factors, while opportunities and threats can refer to internal and external factors.
It's important for practices to conduct regular SWOT analyses because it helps physician leaders take a step back from day-to-day difficulties and understand the larger picture.
Physician practices should conduct a SWOT analysis each year, but they don't always have to start from scratch. If the prior year's analysis is still relevant, practice managers may decide to review and update it for the coming year.
Larger organizations often focus on developing various components of the strategic plan on a rotating schedule, says Jennie Campbell, CMPE, chief operating officer of Summit Medical Group in Knoxville, TN.
"If you want to look at practice growth and you've got a multiple-location practice, you can look at that every few years," she says. "And then on other years, look at things like physician compensation strategy, etc."
The number of people involved in a SWOT analysis depends on the practice size. For a smaller practice, the analysis meeting should consist of four to six people, including the physicians, practice manager, and practice administrator, Campbell says. SWOT analysis meetings for larger practices should include the board of directors or strategic plan committee.
The facilitator plays the most important role during a SWOT analysis, because he or she engages participants in discussion, settles disputes, and writes ideas down on a whiteboard or flip chart. Many practices choose a staff member to be the facilitator, whereas others use an outside consultant.
The most common difficulties during a SWOT analysis usually emerge in the meeting part of the process. Another common snag occurs when people get bogged down trying to categorize a certain item, such as whether the stagnant economy should be considered a threat or an opportunity. The facilitator is useful in a situation like this.