AHA CEO Rick Pollack: How to redefine the hospital for the future

It is time to redefine the "H," according to American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack.

By redefining the "H," Mr. Pollack is referring consciously deciding how hospitals can best serve modern communities, so that when patients see an "H" sign on the highway, it summons notions of health and wellbeing.  

"We have the opportunity to build a future where hospitals are as much associated with health as they are with sickness, more closely aligned in the minds of our patients with the joy of living than the fear of dying," Mr. Pollack said at a summit earlier this month on the social determinants of health. The meeting was hosted by the Root Cause Coalition, which was founded by the AARP Foundation and Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica.

This call to define the role of a hospital is almost a rite of passage, according to Mr. Pollack. As society's needs change and medicine evolves, so too does the role of the hospital. Today, two key forces are pushing structural shifts in healthcare: chronic care management and consumerism.

"Redefining the 'H' begins with developing new approaches to both of [those forces]." Here is how he envisions hospitals grappling with those forces.

1. Chronic care management. Turning the tide in addressing chronic health challenges is essential to the work of tomorrow's hospitals. The number of Americans with multiple chronic conditions is rising quickly, from 149 million today to 171 million by 2030, according to Mr. Pollack.

He estimated 24 percent of all Medicare spending by 2040 would be allocated to treating Alzheimer's disease in the absence of a research breakthrough. On top of that, the obesity rate among American adults is currently 38 percent and an additional 31 percent are overweight. "We recognize that the key to achieving our vision, of being a society of healthy communities, means working outside the proverbial four walls of the hospital," he said. Tomorrow's hospital is one that will be more focused on continuous patient engagement through nontraditional, community-based partnerships.

2. Consumerism. The second force — consumerism — is less medical and more social and economic. "Today's consumers — they don't want to wait for anything," Mr. Pollack said. "And when you think about it, why should they? Healthcare aside, no other aspect of modern life demands patience, with perhaps the exception of airline travel."

Consumerism is redefining how hospitals interact with patients, from same-day appointments to telemedicine to house calls. Connecting with patients in ways that make sense in the digital age and providing easily accessible information and services will be essential as hospitals continue to adopt value-based care models, according to Mr. Pollack. "Redefining the 'H' means meeting the challenge to move from episodic to continuous patient engagement," he said.

However, Mr. Pollack recognized hospitals face major challenges on a daily basis that demand attention, often at the expense of addressing long-view, big-picture issues. "While we focus on the needs of the future it's really important that we don't forget the needs of the present," he said.

As hospitals begin to reach out into communities and strike non-traditional partnerships dedicated to addressing social determinants of health, they must not forget the importance of what goes on inside the four walls of the hospital. "No matter how much we move outside our buildings, we are always going to be providing trauma care, sophisticated surgery, diagnostics or therapeutics that are on the cutting edge of scientific development, that are very often inside those buildings," Mr. Pollack said. "We are going to need your help to make sure — in the midst of all these changes that we are experiencing — that we continue to have the resources necessary to meet this part of our fundamental vision."


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