Is a strategic plan for publishing papers right for your organization?

An excellent way to laud successes and disseminate information regarding research, policy, and quality improvement is by publishing papers in clinical or healthcare policy journals. Usually, papers are produced on an ad-hoc basis, meaning that they get written up and submitted when (and if) those doing the writing can find the time while juggling several competing priorities. As a result, there are often significant delays in paper production. The process itself is typically disjointed and inefficient, and much of the work ends up being duplicated. Think of that conference abstract you wrote that ended up being nothing like the subsequent paper, or those papers that enter a black hole and you forget who has the most recent version or how long it’s been since you’ve seen a draft. The rub, of course, is that papers are extremely important, and even with competing priorities and time limitations, most understand the crucial role they play in disseminating information that may ultimately lead to better treatment and more effective care delivery.

Along those lines, some organizations and large hospital/health systems are starting to realize the significant benefits of being more intentional about their publication process, especially if they are trying to promote or raise awareness of a particular issue or become seen as a leader in a specific topic area. Having a deliberate plan for which papers will be developed and in what order can more quickly and efficiently leverage these publications to further the mission and goals of the organization, such as increasing the chance of funding or attracting and retaining high-quality faculty and staff. Additionally, the process of plan development can improve communication and collaboration within the organization and among key stakeholders.

Developing a Strategic Plan for Publications, however, is no small task. Additionally, there are some key components it should have to increase the likelihood of success. Included in the development steps below are a few high-level concepts you should think about if you’re considering this route.

Step 1: Identify the Role of Papers in Furthering the Mission and Goals of the Organization. As with any strategic plan that involves the goals of the organization as a whole, it will be necessary to engage leadership and key stakeholders - including senior researchers - in the process. When brought together, the leadership and key stakeholders are charged with not only articulating the organization’s mission and goals, but to come to an understanding of the role that publications can play in furthering them. Leadership will typically be interested in long-term financial stability and the reputation of the care provided by the institution. Senior researchers often have a good understanding of the administrative and fiscal responsibilities of the organization, and also understand how publications help to attract and retain high-quality physicians while providing evidence of the institution’s capabilities to potential funding agencies. Through these conversations, this group will lay the foundation for what will become the strategic plan by identifying specific topics or areas where papers can provide a clear benefit to all parties.

Step 2: Agree on the High-level Details of the Individual Publications. Once a particular topic or area for paper development has been identified, the senior researchers can begin to determine how many publications are needed, what they will cover in a general sense, and what type of journal is appropriate for each (e.g., a policy journal, a clinical journal, etc.). In addition to papers, it is likely that there will be one or more conferences where an oral presentation or poster would be beneficial, and therefore should be targeted. In addition, a time-frame should be specified, and will typically be at least 12 to 18 months.  Once defined, these details can be presented to senior leadership to confirm that they reflect what was agreed upon in Step 1.

Step 3: Determine the Infrastructure and Processes Necessary. Even with just 2 to 3 papers and 1 to 2 conference proceedings, the administrative needs and project management commitment involved in carrying out the strategic plan can be significant. Over the course of the specified time-frame, papers will be at varying stages of development (drafted, submitted, under review, rejected, re-submitted, under revision, etc.) and will involve a series of administrative tasks to obtain author signatures, collect conflict-of-interest forms, craft detailed response letters, and so forth. Given the complexity of the process and the length of the time-frame, having a system and set of templates already developed can greatly improve efficiency and the likelihood of being able to reliably obtain and keep track of the needed information. Above and beyond the administrative burden is the task of actually developing the publications themselves. This, too, will benefit from the implementation of a system to reduce lag time and ensure accountability and responsiveness from all of the authors involved. In the system I have developed, some of the key aspects for achieving this include:

  • Developing a schedule of deliverables (outline, initial drafts, final draft, etc.) up front that is agreed upon by all authors. This sets expectations and establishes buy-in and accountability, and also provides an avenue to prod authors who have trouble providing timely feedback - namely in the interest of keeping on schedule.
  • Encouraging authors to focus on the appropriate aspects of paper development at the appropriate time. That is, early drafts are about the overall story and objective of the paper, later drafts are when you can begin to worry about sentence structure and word-smithing. This reduces work duplication and improves the efficiency of paper development.
  • Reducing simultaneous author reviews that produce many alternate versions that need to be reconciled and compiled, and instead implementing sequential reviews. While this may sound like it adds time, a sequential review process typically reduces time because each author knows that the others are waiting on them when it is their turn to provide feedback.
  • Utilizing templates to collect and house author information needed for submission, conflicts of interest, and other administrative information that can quickly be dropped into the necessary forms and using the required formats.

A good system reduces the time individual authors need to devote to writing while at the same time shortens the overall development time. When authors see that they can produce papers faster while investing less time, they will buy into the system even further.

Step 4: Produce a Written Version of the Strategic Plan. Here you will articulate what you have developed in the previous three steps into a comprehensive document suitable for internal distribution to the appropriate individuals. This document includes the organization’s mission and goals and an explanation of how the specific publications will help to promote them. You will describe the publication goals with specific time-lines and you’ll include a justification of the plan and the systems you intend to invoke to complete the plan. You will detail the administrative infrastructure necessary and describe the individual steps needed to accomplish the publication goals.

 

Putting this into practice

A strategic plan can improve the efficiency of your paper production and increase the impact of your publications to further the mission and goals of your organization. The four steps outlined above can help formalize the process and increase the chances of an effective plan, but they are best implemented by someone who can keep those involved from getting too bogged down in the details which can unnecessarily inflate the time and work involved in the planning process. Given your organization’s capabilities and capacity, it may be prudent to outsource the strategic planning, but the costs of doing so will be offset by the benefits realized by your organization.