Jay Bhatt, D.O., is excited about leading the AHA’s quality agenda at “an extraordinary time in American health care.”

“We have an opportunity to drastically improve health and health care in America,” says Bhatt, who joins the AHA on Sept. 26. “We can fundamentally reshape delivery, payment, workforce and partnerships that contribute to advancing health in America. This is a unique time for AHA as hospitals move toward redefining the ‘H.’”

He notes that at a time where health care is changing so rapidly, “the one thing that remains constant is the relationship clinicians have with their patients and we need to amplify that as a key lever in improving health.”

The “dynamic environment opens the door to change for the better – a focus on improving health in our communities, on optimal delivery, wellness and effective collaborations that honor and help address the extraordinary change management our health care system is going through at a pace they can tolerate,” he adds.

Bhatt is leaving the post of chief health officer for the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA) to serve as the AHA’s chief medical officer and CEO of the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET). He will lead the AHA’s quality activities in several areas, including HRET, the Institute for Diversity in Health Management (IFD) and the Association for Community Health Improvement (ACHI). He also will direct physician engagement activities and provide leadership on policy issues.      

At IHA, Bhatt was responsible for organizing physician activities and providing clinical leadership for the association’s Institute for Innovations in Care and Quality. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Department of Public Health as managing deputy commissioner and chief innovation officer.

Bhatt wants to better coordinate and align the AHA’s myriad quality activities around an agenda that “accelerates the pace of performance improvement, advances high reliability, engages patients and their families, translates data into insight and action, eliminates disparities in care leading to equity and helps AHA members redefine their hospitals’ role in the communities they serve.”

“If aligned effectively, we can be more strategic and move the quality and safety needle across issues of concern to members and be more efficient in doing so,” he says. “The levers need to be aligned around an agenda of helping our members deliver smarter, safer, better care that encompasses the notion that we can improve the health of our communities.”

He says physicians and the care team are critical change agents in this effort. “In engaging physicians, we need to help them take the best care of their patients they can, fight burnout, engage what matters to patients and not just what is the matter with them, and help them grow professionally engaging them in strategy and implementation questions at their institution,” he says. “We can build a bridge between administrators, finance leaders, and physicians developed on a set of common values, understanding and hope for a better health care system.”

HRET led the largest Hospital Engagement Network, representing nearly 1,500 hospitals, and helped improve hospital quality in several clinical topic areas. In addition, HRET works on a number of improvement projects with partners that include the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The results show that – with our state hospital associations – our collaborative community is moving the needle,” he says. “It is clear we need to accelerate this work.”

He looks to HRET to “harness the innovations taking place within the field. Share and spread them. We must shine a light on best practices amplifying the hospital story … and all the while ensuring our work continues to provide value to our members.” In that way, he says HRET will “continue its prominent place among organizations working to improve health and health care.”

HRET also is a leader in work to eliminate disparities, advance health equity and promote diversity in health care leadership. Bhatt noted that HRET and IFD play a major role in Equity of Care, a joint effort of the AHA and other national partners that provide resources, such as guides, best practices, case studies and national collaborative efforts to create more equitable health care in America. To advance that effort, the AHA asks every hospital to sign its #123forEquity Pledge to Act to end disparities in care.

“I would like equity of care to become the lens through which HRET looks at all its work,” says Bhatt, adding that “significant collaboration exists within AHA to strengthen this work.” He says “there isn’t equity without diversity, and so [IFD and ACHI] are important levers and partners in our work to advance equity and ultimately quality. We know that without equity there is not quality. We also know that quality is a business strategy as well.”


When it comes to funding improvement projects, Bhatt would like HRET to explore new sources of support and “win-win strategic partnerships” with the business community, the philanthropic community, federal and state agencies, and design revenue-generating, value-added services to support the AHA’s work of advancing quality, safety, clinical transformation, advocacy and policy.

“We can diversify into fee-for-service, corporate and strategic partners, and develop unique collaborations that can reduce costs for payers and employers and, in return, further the work we do on behalf of our member hospitals,” he says.

He believes AHA members appreciate the support and guidance they receive from HRET through collective impact, data analysis, coaching, reports and “actionable” resources. He says members are looking for more, particularly around issues of behavioral health, tackling the opioid epidemic and building a thriving workforce.

He says “hospitals see great promise and opportunity” through the narrative that the AHA helps to tell by spotlighting the important quality initiatives, community outreach activities and other contributions made by the field.   

“Progress comes when you tell the hospital story of not only lives saved and medical advances, but also impact on the community and the return on investment,” Bhatt says. “When you can say, ‘we know of a hospital that performed 850,000 transfusions with no complications … or of hospitals that have gone three years without a catheter-based infection … or have reduced readmissions by collaborating with community partners, and we can tell you how they did it and what steps others should take to replicate success.’ That is powerful.”