An addiction program director complained about the labyrinthine five-year strategic planning process required by the medical center where he works. “I don’t know why we bother. Hardly any of the stuff we predict ever comes to pass.”

He has a point. We exist in an unusually volatile sector of a healthcare environment in rapid flux. Nobody knows precisely what’s to come. Nonetheless, all businesses need to plan for the future. The CARF standards provide a reasonably good guideline.

Step One: Gather information from consumers, staff, customers (such as funders or payer, or referral sources), and from other stakeholders. The simplest way is by conducting surveys and holding informal discussions. This forms the first part of your database for planning.

Step Two: Assess the competitive environment. Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? Any new competition on the horizon? That’s the second part of the database.

Step Three: What opportunities and threats can you identify in terms of your future sustainability? Can you see opportunities for new sources of revenue or referral? Conversely, could you lose current business from certain sources? What about changes in funding, reimbursement, coverage, etc?

Step Four: Evaluate your current capabilities re human resources, financial health, clinical capability, administrative function, facilities, information systems, et al. How solid is the support from your community? Note any challenges that stand out.

Step Five: Speaking of your community: describe its demographics (current and also future if they’re changing), as well as your relationships with key individuals and organizations. What are the characteristics of your patient population?

Step Six: What about the regulatory and legislative environment– Stable? In flux? Supportive or not?

Step Seven: Don’t forget about technology, a big part of everybody’s future. How are your current MIS systems? Will they require an upgrade to meet your changing needs? Why or why not?

Step Eight: Sort through all this info and set goals and priorities. Be sure to include projected timelines going forward. When you can your staff have something you’re happy with, take it to the Board and begin the process of review and comment.

Step Nine: Once the plan’s approved, make it available to the people who need to know.

Step Ten: Update it annually. Once you’ve developed a good plan, it’s a lot easier to revise and build on as the years pass. The idea is to make sure it remains current. And that’s not all that easy in today’s world.