A tidal wave of change is coming at hospital chief executives and it's going to take more than just one cost-cutting effort to set their institutions on the right path.

There's a long list of possible routes hospital execs can take to bolster their financial performance and make the leap to the proverbial second curve. A few of the most important ones rose to the top during Huron Healthcare's recent CEO Forum. Every year for the past five, the Chicago-based consulting firm has hosted a gathering of 20 or so hospital leaders to chew over important topics, and last week it released its fifth annual summary of the event.

CEOs involved in the discussion this past fall believe there's no one magic bullet to help hospitals make the shift to a new health care model, says Andrew Ziskind, M.D., managing director and clinical solutions leader at Huron. 

"When we talked to hospital CEOs, they made it clear that it is not going to be a single initiative that results in financial improvement; it's going to be a series of many that, when put together, help to optimize performance," says Ziskind. "The key headline is that it's not business as usual. It continues to be a tumultuous market, but we're starting to see the key areas that CEOs need to be focused on, and that hospitals and health systems need to be addressing if they're going to be successful in the future."

The growing consumerlike mindset of patients is a top concern for hospital leaders, Huron found, as mobile technologies and transparency of pricing and quality data increasingly take hold. Smart hospital leaders are beginning to invest in technologies and processes that help patients to behave like customers — shopping for their care, comparing prices, etc. Studies also show that, when patients are engaged actively in managing their care, costs will decrease while quality rises, Ziskind points out (check out last year's patient engagement series for more on this topic).

"As a payer, we are pivoting from the B2B world to B2C. The center of the universe has changed. The consumer is now at the center," Joseph Swedish, CEO of insurer Anthem and former chief executive of 86-hospital, Michigan-based Trinity Health, said in the report. "Our collective success depends on our ability to serve the needs of the customer."

Population health, too, was on the tongues of many CEOs at the forum, Huron reports, as leaders aim to make the move from treating episodes of sick care to managing the health of whole groups of individuals. As hospitals transition to this new way of doing business, partnerships with other provider organizations, changes to their organizational infrastructures, and data analytics are all top of mind.

The latter, in particular, is critical in population health as hospitals attempt to sort through troves of data to make sense of how to deploy their precious resources.

"We started out data-rich and information-poor," Kevin Schoeplein, CEO of OSF Healthcare System, in Peoria, Ill., said in the report. "You have to focus the effort. The amount of data is enormous, and trying to deal with all of it is like trying to boil the ocean. You have to create a single source of truth on the data, prioritize it, and then push the information out, rather than wait for people to ask for it."

Weighing risk vs. reward was a third topic that Huron highlighted. If hospitals are going to start taking on more risk in their strategies, forming partnerships will be key, the report points out, particularly with payers. One such example, cited in the report, is the case of Anthem BlueCross BlueShield — combining some 9 million patient records and making them available to hospitals and providers to improve coordination.

Hospital leaders must understand that they need to relinquish control of some things in today's environment and seek help.

"The old model of health care leadership, which focused on maximizing command and control, is not likely to be effective in this new environment," Keith Pitts, vice chairman of Dallas-based, 80-hospital Tenet Healthcare, said in the report. "It is very unlikely that a single entity will be able to own and/or control 100 percent of the health care delivery system that its patients use. We are entering an era where new relationships and new partnerships will provide answers."

What about your hospital? Does its priorities align with those highlighted by leaders at the Huron CEO Forum? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.