As National Hospital Week draws to a close it is worth reflecting on how those blue and white signs with the big "H" have always carried the promise of help, hope and healing. The hospital of the future will continue to extend that promise, but in new ways that will be less about a building and more about a coordinated system of care.

AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack described the challenge at the AHA Annual Membership Meeting last week. “This is our time to redefine the hospital … in a way that secures the central role of hospitals in public life,” he told hospital and health system leaders.

Redefining the "H" means exploring what it means to be a provider in a rapidly transforming health care environment. It’s about hospitals building collaborative teams that are improving the coordination of health care. They're partnering with other health care providers and experimenting with new ways to provide care where people live and work — not just at the local hospital.

Hospitals are looking beyond their walls to better coordinate care among primary care doctors, home health caregivers, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes – and many other types of providers. And they're expanding wellness and prevention services for those with chronic diseases like Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, which account for upwards of 75% of health costs. Because keeping people healthy and at home is better for patients and communities — and better for controlling health care costs.

Redefining the "H" also means recognizing that the wave of consumerism sweeping over health care demands increased value and transparency for patients. In this new age, hospitals will be challenged as never before to demonstrate that health care is a good investment – not just an expense – to patients who increasingly see themselves as purchasers of care. 

These are not simple transitions. But hospitals are determined to do whatever it take to continue meeting their commitment to their communities.

Redefining the "H" is about hospitals building a future where they are associated as much with health and wellness as they are with sickness.  A future where – as the AHA’s president said last week – hospitals are more closely linked in patients’ minds with the joy of living than to the fear of dying.