Rick Pollack has been on the front lines of nearly every major political health care battle for the past three decades. Those years of studying, understanding and debating the complexities of the nation’s health care system have given Pollack a unique perspective, one that observers say should serve him well as he prepares to take over as CEO and president of the American Hospital Association. Pollack takes the reins of the nation’s largest hospital trade association on Sept. 1, replacing Rich Umbdenstock who will retire at the end of the year. | Interviewed by Matthew Weinstock

What are the AHA’s biggest strengths?

POLLACK: Our strength comes from our membership. We represent members that are cornerstones of society and pillars of their communities. They provide essential public services.

Other fundamental strengths are our advocacy and representation capabilities. Our members are in every state and every congressional district. But when I say advocacy and representation, I also mean it in broad terms; it’s not just lobbying on Capitol Hill. It is about having a multilateral impact in influencing regulatory agencies, the media, the courts, accreditation agencies, academia and think tanks.

When I think of advocacy as a strength, I also think about the ways we help the field to self-regulate and use guidelines and codes of conduct to promote high standards that often can avoid unnecessary government regulation.

When I talk about advocacy, I also look at what we do in social media both as an organization and as part of the Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care.

Advocacy is also performance improvement in quality, patient safety, addressing diversity and disparities, and protecting patient privacy. It is working to increase the public’s confidence and trust in our field because that makes us stronger advocates and gives us increased credibility.

A lot of people tend to think that advocacy only takes place in Washington, D.C., and not in the AHA’s Chicago office. Well, it takes place in Chicago as well.

Another key strength is our ability to be thought leaders and offer solutions to the challenges that we face as a nation. We have a proven track record of doing this with such road maps as Health for Life and Ensuring a Healthier Tomorrow to improve health and health care in America. We’ve also put forth reports and recommendations addressing key issues, including caring for vulnerable populations, managing an intergenerational workforce and advance illness management.

A third area of strength is in knowledge transfer and being a facilitator and distribution channel to our members so that they are able to learn from each other.

Lastly, our relationship with the allied hospital associations is a big strength since they are partners in everything we do.

Would you consider such efforts as the Hospital Engagement Network and Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence — which both have elements of knowledge transfer and performance improvement — as part of advocacy?

POLLACK: Absolutely. I go back to the construct that whatever we do to increase public confidence and trust will make us more influential. Of course, these initiatives also help our members do their jobs more effectively, which is another important role of the association.

What do you see as the AHA’s biggest gaps or organizational challenges?

POLLACK: Health care is changing and that means our members are changing. We need to be responsive to their evolving needs. We have to understand what services members consider to be of the highest value and make sure that we focus on their priorities. In some cases, that may mean exploring new strategic alliances to ensure that members get what they need to do their jobs better.

Another organizational challenge is finding more creative and innovative ways to engage our members. We need to broaden the feedback loop by using technology and other mechanisms so that we can engage more people and hear more voices as we develop our strategies on various issues.