Everything about running a hospital is changing — everything, from payments to patients, from medical staff to models of care. The mind reels.

Yet, as chaotic and overwhelming as it all seems, executives and trustees — and everybody else who works to keep our nation's hospitals operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week — know they're at the center of a truly historic moment, a turning point. You are helping to transform health care in America, and you're doing it with the noblest of goals: to create a true, integrated, sustainable health and wellness system that will improve the lives of all Americans.

Nobody promised that getting to that goal would be easy. That's why every year the American Hospital Association's Gene O'Dell puts together the AHA Environmental Scan. The scan sorts out the multitude of trends that are likely to have a significant impact on health care in the near future. It organizes them in a succinct and sensible way to help focus the conversation as members of the C-suite and board tackle the increasingly complex job of strategic planning. 

And strategic planning itself is changing. As Jim Hinton notes in September's H&HN, when he started as CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, N.M., strategic plans typically spanned five to seven years. "Now," Hinton writes, "we certainly have long-range direction, but we fine-tune, adjust and introduce a revised plan every year."

The AHA Environmental Scan creates a category for every trend. The special foldout section in H&HN includes 11 categories, ranging from Consumers & Patients to Workforce to Insurance & Coverage to Science & Technology.

Within each category are three or four bullet points summarizing the important elements of that particular trend. For example, under Quality & Patient Safety, one blurb notes that "High-impact leadership requires leaders to adopt four mental modes: (1) individuals and families are partners in their care; (2) compete on value, with continuous reduction in operating costs; (3) reorganize services to align with new payment systems; and (4) everyone is an improver."

If you want to dig deeper on any or all of these concepts, there's also a list of primary source materials.

With so much for executives and trustees to try to get their arms around, the 2015 AHA Environmental Scan is a useful tool to bring to the table.