Editor's note:  Visit H&HN Daily all week for live coverage of the 19th annual AHA-Health Forum Leadership Summit in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO—During his keynote address at the AHA Health Forum Leadership Summit Sunday, longtime NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw called on hospital leaders to focus on transforming the U.S. health care system to provide all Americans with adequate care, even as political tensions continue to rise this month in Washington over the debt limit and its implications for Medicare and Social Security.

"You've got to find ways to ensure that the American health system does serve everyone," Brokaw said. "We are all in this together."

To do that effectively will take contributions from all health care parties, Brokaw said, noting that greater transparency in care delivery is needed to truly bring patients into the picture as informed advocates.

"Routine patients should be better consumers," Brokaw said, adding that "your accounting systems are unbelievably hard to understand."

Brokaw also lamented the current state of political division in the Washington, D.C., noting that partisan tensions are at the highest he's seen in his time covering national politics, dating back to the 1960s.  The next two weeks, of course, will provide a stage to see those tensions play out in real time, a topic that AHA president Rich Umbdenstock focused on in his opening remarks. Umbdenstock called for the hospital leaders gathered to "make our voices heard"; the AHA also recently produced a video with that message.

"This is an all hands on deck moment for everyone in the health care community," Umbdenstock said.

Beyond the current political machinations, though, Umbdenstock argued that laws and regulations are "transitory tactics" and urged hospital leaders to stay focused on the bigger picture—transforming their operations to more collaborative structures working closely with doctors and other providers.

"There's nothing more important right now than the transition to collaboration, and how to turn teamwork into a strategic asset," Umbdenstock said.

What exactly collaboration and teamwork will look like in the hospital of the future was the subject of a riveting panel discussion later Sunday afternoon on ACOs. Fred Hessler, managing director of Citigroup's Health Care Group, noted that in his conversations recently with hospitals and health systems looking to pursue accountable care strategies, no two institutions were alike in terms of their histories and structures, which means that every hospital's path to accountable care will be unique. And without the luxury of a one-size-fits-all-approach, providers are facing a challenging next few years.

Challenges can bring out the best in people, though, a point John Finan, President and CEO of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, indirectly made in a quip about more placid times for health care leaders.

"I was just saying to my colleagues, think of the 1950s and how boring it must have been [for hospital administrators]," Finan said. "Once they got the coffee made and turned the lights on, what did they do all day?"

Finally, attendees at this year's Summit are participating in a series of surveys on health care questions via mobile applications. The first question is below:

• How likely is it that your hospital will participate in an ACO Pilot Shared Savings Program when the program starts in 2012?