CHICAGO—Despite a 7 a.m. start, today's first “Hot Topics” session at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress drew an impressive crowd. Maybe it was the continental breakfast; more likely it was the promise to sort fact from fiction on some of the hottest issues facing health care: population health, physician engagement and value-based payment.

Nathan Kaufman, managing director of Kaufman Strategic Advisors LLC, surveyed the changing landscape, keying in on what health care leaders need to do, what the data suggest and what pitfalls to avoid.

“One of the reasons organizations fail is the lemming syndrome,” Kaufman said. Following the strategies of the pack provides comfort and confidence, but there is no 'magic bullet solution',” he added.

Kaufman offered up payment reform as an example — which, he contended, may not be the answer to reining in health care costs that many believe it is. Instead, cutting down on waste, establishing wellness centers and promoting value-based care may be among the more effective solutions.

Another critical area to spark change is in engaging physicians. Leadership must work with physicians to create superior service. “If you don’t have a great relationship between physicians and with physicians, you won’t be successful,” Kaufman said. And if physicians, including specialists, are on board, they'll help to create a standard use of clinical guidelines, provide superior service and drive down costs.

Although the tides are continually changing in the ocean that is health care, Kaufman provided comforting words to the audience — sort of.

“You have time if you start now — this isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. “We can’t predict when it will happen but, directionally, we know it’s going to happen.”

He closed his presentation with a YouTube video of hospital employees' strained relationship with their electronic health record system set to Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” And the crowd seemed a little more at ease about the future of health care.