If your health center wants to retain your status as a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC)—and we assume that you do—then you need to be successful in your site visits.

Maybe you look at these site visits as a necessary evil. We get it. However, reframing your perspective on site visits can go a long way towards making the assessment process both successful and productive.

Believe it or not, site visits don’t have to be just another hoop to jump through to keep federal funding. By approaching the process as a critical part of your overall strategy, you can reap tangible benefits. Naturally, this requires a strategic plan.

We recommend taking these six steps to get started:

  1. Understand the end goals from the beginning.

Before drawing up a whole, 200-page plan, it’s helpful to start with the basics. What is your goal for the strategic plan?

At first glance, this may seem a little obvious. Your goal is to pass the site visit, right? But you should try to dig deeper and think in terms of the bigger picture. The goal isn’t just to have a successful site visit, but to take all of the actions necessary to put you in a position to succeed.

You need to envision what success looks like for your health center. That vision should guide your entire strategic process.

It’s generally helpful to begin with the Needs Assessment, which is one of the most important components to the site visit. The purpose of the Needs Assessment: To develop a comprehensive understanding of the healthcare needs of your service area and then to evaluate how well your health center is (or isn’t) meeting those needs.

The Needs Assessment is described in greater detail in the Site Visit Protocol.

  1. Treat strategic planning as a monumental and meaningful activity for your health center.

Everyone at your health center, from the Board of Directors on down, needs to be on board with your strategy. That requires establishing a culture that values strategic planning.

To do this, your health center may need to reframe how you talk about site visits. The question isn’t, “what do we need to do in order to pass the site visit?”; it’s, “how can preparing for the site visit help us achieve our goal and better serve patients?”

  1. Examine external opportunities and threats.

In devising a strategy, it’s helpful to take inventory of the external circumstances facing your health center and the people you serve. Issues you might consider include:

  • Factors that make it more difficult for people in your region to access healthcare. (i.e. geography, transportation, financial need)
  • Health problems that are particularly prevalent in your region
  • Health disparities between different parts of your population (based on race, income level, gender, etc.)
  • Any other unique factors that impact healthcare provision in your region

But it’s not just about the challenges. When strategizing, it’s also helpful to consider what opportunities exist in your region. For example, are there potential partnerships to be formed with other health providers? With public health organizations (governmental and non-governmental) in your area? Think creatively about what you could be doing with the resources you can potentially access.

  1. Examine internal strengths and weaknesses.

Site reviewers representing HRSA will want to see that your health center has conducted a thorough evaluation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Beyond this requirement, however, it’s just good practice for successful strategy.

You should have systems in place for internal evaluation (such as patient surveys and a patient grievance process). Use relevant data to conduct an honest assessment of how well your health center is performing.

HRSA doesn’t expect you to have everything figured out, but they do very reasonably expect you to conduct self-evaluations. So, make self-evaluation a standard part of your strategizing process.

  1. Include a diverse range of participants in the strategic planning process.

Strategic planning shouldn’t be the sole domain of one or two administrators (although it is very helpful for one person to take lead on the project). To get a full perspective on how well your health center is doing and how you can improve your services, consult with a full range of stakeholders: providers, other clinicians, patients, Board members, community members, and others. Consulting with a diverse range of people will only make your strategy more robust (and impress HRSA in the process).

  1. Create practical, measurable objectives and action steps to reach your goals.

Once you’ve conducted a thorough review of your health center, in consultation with multiple stakeholders, it’s time to formulate goals for improvement. Make these goals as specific as impossible—and make them measurable. It shouldn’t just be “improve access to healthcare,” but “increase number of low-income patients by X%.” Be realistic in your goals—it’s always possible to change them once you’ve succeeded!

Then, devise a step-by-step plan for exactly how you will achieve these goals. Again, specificity is key. Not only will this please your site reviewers, but an actionable plan will also make it more likely that you can achieve your strategic aims.

Even if you’ve followed these steps religiously, strategy is still hard. If you need help coming up with a viable strategy—and preparing for a site visit—contact us. We can set up a Site Visit Readiness Assessment that will get you on the right track.