WASHINGTON, D.C.—“It’s this simple,” Jonathan Perlin, M.D., told attendees at the opening plenary during the American Hospital Association’s annual membership meeting Sunday in Washington, D.C. “We can’t have a sustainable health system without constantly improving care and health.”

Perlin, president of clinical services and chief medical officer of HCA, spoke after his formal investiture as 2015 chair of the AHA’s board of directors. He acknowledged that the hospital leaders gathered in the auditorium of the Washington Hilton probably would not be surprised to learn that his main mission as chair is a “rededication to the Triple Aim” of better health, better care and better value. And, he insisted, one will lead to the other. “It is impossible to imagine that we can truly bend the curve of cost sustainability without also improving the health of the community.”

As one example, he pointed to the recent work of the Hospital Engagement Network overseen by the AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust, which brought together a large number of hospitals and state hospital associations to identify best practices in several areas and spread that information among HEN participants. “Scaling best practices for infection prevention, preventing elective pre-term delivery, and improving surgical safety to hospitals across the country likely saved 10,000 lives and a better part of a billion dollars,” he said.

Perlin expressed concern that a ruling by the Supreme Court against the Affordable Care Act would “displace approximately 9 million Americans from their newly gained insurance, resulting in raising premiums by over 50 percent for those sicker patients, who are compelled to remain.”

That possibility and the fact that not all states have expanded Medicaid “reminds us that the tide of progress has yet to raise all boats. It means that some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens are not yet provided the equity of opportunity that others experience.” 

“Access to care,” Perlin added, “is a prerequisite for health.”

Although hospitals are obligated to let legislators and policymakers know what worries them, they are equally obligated to offer solutions. “We know that among our members, there exists a deep reserve of intellectual capital, with solutions to vexing problems, grounded in science not ideology,” he said, noting that he is optimistic that, working collectively, AHA members can redefine “the hospital of today into the health care of tomorrow” and use “the moral authority of our mission to advance both health and care.”