Potential new health care legislation, cybersecurity, electronic health records, apps and wearables, consumerism, chronic disease management ... these are only a fraction of the issues facing our field today. In addition, an unsettled political landscape with regard to the fate of the Affordable Care Act provides greater uncertainty. Crafting a forward-thinking strategic plan, with significant member input, has been a crucial step in the American Hospital Association’s approach to navigating this ambiguous environment and actively shaping the road ahead.  

The 2018 Environmental Scan explores our current circumstances through the lens of our five strategic commitments: access, value, partners, well-being and coordination. Every hospital and health system seeks to advance in these areas, although their paths may differ depending on the unique characteristics of the organizations and the communities they serve. By compiling and reflecting upon the recent data and trends in our 2018 scan, the AHA and the field can properly adjust strategies to address current matters while preparing for a reimagined future. 

Two topic areas I would like to mention that will be particularly important in terms of both the legislative and clinical sides of the environment are affordability and innovation. We have special sections in the environmental scan devoted to each because they can have a ripple effect on many other areas of the health care system.

Affordability touches federal, state and local governments, businesses and hospitals. The consumer is a focal point in terms of the ability to afford premiums and deductibles. We recognize that the hospital field is not the only stakeholder when it comes to lowering the cost of health care. We can do our part, however, to make a difference on behalf of our patients. The AHA, working with our leadership and members, will develop value-based strategies that hospitals and health systems can implement to improve health care affordability. These efforts will focus on redesigning the delivery system, improving quality and outcomes of care, developing new strategies for payment reform and managing risk, and continuing our efforts to reduce operational costs.

Innovation is closely related to affordability because innovation has the potential to increase efficiency, improve care coordination, further quality improvement initiatives, generate new value and reduce costs. Consumerism, technology, data, new business models and unique partnerships all contribute to health care innovation. The current forces that besiege hospitals and health systems compel us to explore ways to innovate so that our field can get out in front of issues — not solely address current challenges. The AHA will be helping members to build capacity for innovation by providing tools and resources such as innovation boot camp training and case studies that offer blueprints for scalability and lessons learned.

We recognize that our current political environment presents us with challenges, and the field has come together with a unified, powerful voice to advocate on behalf of communities and patients across the nation. This Environmental Scan pushes us to identify our challenges and then shift our thinking to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. Through collaboration, innovation and data-driven insights, the AHA and the field will continue to work toward our vision of a society of healthy communities where all individuals reach their highest potential for health.

Maryjane Wurth is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Hospital Association and president and CEO of Health Forum.