A veteran healthcare strategy consultant recently confided that you could not distinguish between the mission, vision and values statements for the vast majority of not-for-profit health systems in the United States.

I am not sure whether this commonality is a testament to the singularity of purpose and values of most hospitals in the U.S., or rather if planning consultants are just overusing the template.

There is rarely a strategic plan created for a hospital in the U.S. without the obligatory statement of mission, vision and values.  It is as if it would be un-American, or so not strategic to have a strategy and business plan without those lofty statements as the basis for their existence.

Some organizations have even taken to printing and framing these statements and posting them throughout the hospital.  That’s nice.  Maybe someone will actually stop and read them. 

As we approach a new era in healthcare delivery – whether we like it or not – there are hospitals which are beginning to think more seriously about their commitments to their community and how they can distinguish themselves from their competitors.  Population health management will push hospitals, used to catering to physicians, with the ultimate goal of admissions, to more retail marketing. 

At the recent ACHE Congress in Chicago, an annual meeting of healthcare leaders, a respected CEO said he and his team were thinking about repurposing their bland mission statement into a more accountable contract with their service areas.  The recent Steven Brill Time Magazine broadside on healthcare opaque pricing/cost shifting system gave him pause.  “We know how we got here, but it still makes us look bad.  This is not something I want to defend even though it is going to take more than one health system like ours to say that this is wrong; it makes us, and it makes the hospital industry look foolish.”  He asked me not to use his name because when they roll out their new strategy and branding campaign, he wants his competitor to be as surprised as he hopes the community will be pleased.  We initially met when he was a young, newly minted healthcare management graduate working in the Midwest as an assistant administrator.  I was the national marketing manager for the helicopter company that was implementing the majority of hospital-based Life Flight programs.

“In an industry not known for being transparent because of all of the regulations, liability issues, and a healthy dose of our own reluctance to be more open, this new approach is going to take time to evolve, but we are going to start by making commitments to the communities we serve with the end goal of publicly measuring our performance each year.”

“I am not sure yet what we are going to emphasize, but we want to make a contract with our communities to do a better job, to be more patient and community focused, and you can’t really do that if your mission statement sounds like everyone else’s.  So, we are thinking about specific annual performance targets and some broader commitments that will be evergreen.”

He admitted that he will have a tough sell – accountability has not always been healthcare’s strong suit.  However, at least he is thinking anew and that is encouraging and exciting.

© 2013 John Gregory Self