I first met Jim Skogsbergh in 2007 while researching a cover story about Advocate Health Care’s “audacious attitude” toward patient safety. I spent the better part of two months that summer visiting various Advocate hospitals in Chicagoland, sitting in on mandatory three-hour staff training sessions, observing behavior on patient floors and interviewing clinical and administrative leaders.

Toward the end of my research, I attended a quarterly leadership meeting where more than 600 Advocate managers and senior-level officials had packed into a suburban ballroom to learn how their behavior can help or hinder a culture of safety.

A highlight was when registered nurse Clarita Distor and surgical technician Leonard Arnold were honored for an incident that had become the stuff of legend in Advocate circles. A year earlier, the two bravely stood their ground against an irate surgeon who had attempted to proceed with an operation even though the team was in the middle of conducting a time-out and had yet to finish its checklist ensuring that this was the right patient, right body part and right equipment.

“This has my 150 percent commitment,” Skogsbergh told me a day or two later when we met to discuss Advocate’s patient safety journey. “If we had any pushback, it wouldn’t have mattered. We were going to do it anyway.”

Fast-forward seven years. That commitment to patient safety is unwavering. If anything, it seems to have grown exponentially as hospitals face tremendous pressure to reduce costs and improve quality.

“The drumbeat that we pound day in and day out is that we are first and foremost a safe clinical enterprise,” Skogsbergh says in this month’s cover story. “It is all about the care that we give our patients.”

During a two-hour conversation in late October, Skogsbergh and I discussed several of the key trends influencing the field, many of which Advocate, the largest health system in Illinois, already has addressed head on. As he moves into a leadership role on the American Hospital Association board — 2015 chair-elect and 2016 chair — Skogsbergh is intent on helping the field to understand that the ultimate goal has to be patient care and safety.

“It is about the Triple Aim — better health care, better outcomes and lower costs,” he says. “You don’t get to choose which one of those you want; it is all of those things.”

Skogsbergh is also an unabashed believer in using data to improve operations and sharing best practices. It’s in the nation’s best interest, he says, for providers to focus on how they can get better. In doing so, they shouldn’t be afraid of borrowing successful ideas from one another.

“Who has a great outcome in this area? What can we learn from them?” he asks. “What pieces of their approach are easy and make sense for us right now, and what pieces don’t work for us?”

That latter statement also offers a glimpse into Skogsbergh's mindset. While Advocate is on the leading edge of many innovations, Skogsbergh is fully cognizant of the fact that different hospitals and markets will need different solutions. So while the paths may vary, the important thing is making sure that everyone is pointed in the right direction.

— You can reach me at mweinstock@healthforum.com.