After nearly 18 years of service and 12 years as CEO, Susan DeVore is retiring from Premier and its board of directors, effective May 1. DeVore will remain with Premier through June 30 and continue as an advisor to the company for two years afterward. Premier President Michael Alkire will succeed DeVore and serve as president, CEO and a member of the board.
Under DeVore, Premier has been named as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” for the past 11 years, received the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award and earned the “Best in KLAS” title for Overall Healthcare Management Consulting.
DeVore participated in a Q&A with The Journal of Healthcare Contracting (JHC), reflecting on her successful tenure at Premier as well as how the company is positioned for 2021 and beyond.
The Journal of Healthcare Contracting (JHC): What one thing makes you most proud of your organization based on the past year?
Susan DeVore: I am most proud of the ways our members have partnered with us to find truly innovative solutions to the biggest problems facing healthcare and our nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, Premier worked with our members to develop and roll out a COVID-19 early detection app. The app leverages electronic health records (EHRs) from 200,000 U.S. healthcare providers across more than 400 hospitals to provide early warning capability, forecast surges and help providers plan strategic, coordinated responses. Our quick deployment of this technology enabled our members to predict case surge, prioritize supply and adjust therapies for COVID-19 patients.
Another critical goal at the onset of COVID-19 was to source vital PPE and other much-needed supplies – and quickly – for our members, their frontline workers and patients. Our direct sourcing team works directly with suppliers to increase global PPE manufacturing and has continued to supply products for members at or above 100% allocation levels – securing sourcing for 130 million masks and 50 million gowns in 2020 alone.
We have fast-tracked supplier contracting for categories experiencing product allocation or shortage, brought on 100 new suppliers since the pandemic hit, and leveraged this expedited sourcing process to safely vet gray market solicitations on behalf of our members.
Our members are also partnering with us to pursue targeted investment opportunities in categories that lack adequate competition, geographic diversity or stable sources of contingency supply. Our syndicated model, backed by long-term purchasing volume, promotes market competition and offers domestic product options for providers where they did not exist previously.
For example, we and several our members acquired a minority stake in Prestige Ameritech, the nation’s largest domestic producer of face masks. As of December 2020, the company is making 5 million masks per month and 52 million other PPE products annually. To expand domestic production of isolation gowns, we created a joint venture with our members and DeRoyal Industries Inc., and we expect this partnership to produce over 40 million U.S.-manufactured gowns annually. Through long-term committed buying contracts, our generic drug sourcing program ProvideGx is ensuring access to vital medications for our members, maintaining historic 100% fill rates for 10 critical pandemic drugs, despite 150% surge demand in some cases. We rely on a differentiated, data-driven approach to these investments, prioritizing those that will quickly satisfy the greatest needs, at scale.
I am tremendously proud of our nation’s healthcare providers who have persevered through hardships over the past year, putting the personal safety of themselves (and often their family and loved ones) at risk to deliver on the mission of caring for our communities. And I am proud of Premier’s partnerships with our members – providing them access to insights that help them avoid surprises, get needed supplies and develop long-term solutions to supply shortfalls that protect communities across the nation.
JHC: Looking back, what have been the biggest changes to healthcare during your tenure?
DeVore: Data and technology have experienced the biggest changes. When I began my tenure as CEO 12 years ago, data and technology were in use, but providers were still learning how to mine it for opportunities. Now, with the proliferation of healthcare data available and technology optimized with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the healthcare landscape is changing significantly. For example, today, Premier members have access to data on more than 1 billion inpatient and outpatient encounters from over 1,000 hospitals and health systems as well as clinical decision support and real-time clinical surveillance at the point of care – all of which are enabling lower costs, enhanced quality and improved outcomes. These advancements will continue to shape healthcare well into the future.
COVID-19 has also served as a catalyst for positive and broad transformation in the U.S. health system. For example, telehealth was long described as a gamechanger in the delivery of care, yet its adoption remained underutilized in most markets due primarily to payment and policy restrictions – until last year, of course. Now, we are partnering with our members to broaden their telehealth strategies and using it to expand access, including into rural or underserved areas. It has been rewarding to watch this technology that has been long-talked-about, and slowly tapped, suddenly proliferate. And it shows that healthcare does has the ability to move and adapt quickly.
The growth in value-based care over the last decade has been exciting to watch and expand, and it is an area in which I also anticipate acceleration; COVID-19 has clearly yielded a greater propensity for providers toward risk-based models. During the pandemic, Premier found that participants in alternative payment models (APMs) heavily relied on population health capabilities to manage the pandemic, leveraging partnerships across the care continuum, as well as claims data, to coordinate patient care more rapidly than their counterparts.
Similarly, direct-to-employer contracting is a model the industry has been working toward over the last decade and is now on the rise. As health systems assume accountability for the health of their communities, a market has been born that is ripe for new partnerships between local health systems and national employers in their community to resourcefully and effectively manage wellness and overall healthcare costs. Together, they are bypassing traditional third-party payers to pursue a new type of healthcare financing and delivery model.
And given the prevailing discussion about reforming the healthcare supply chain, a new change on the horizon in 2021 will be policy that incentivizes domestic manufacturing as well as efforts to gain upstream and downstream visibility into the supply chain.
JHC: What has remained the same?
DeVore: As much as I have seen the healthcare system evolve, it is still plagued with manual, burdensome and expensive processes that lead to inefficiencies, higher costs and delayed care or patient harm. About a quarter of total healthcare spending in the U.S. is waste, according to studies, with failure of care delivery and care coordination accounting for up to $240 billion. The key to eradicating low-value healthcare is knowing exactly which interventions should be undertaken and those that should not.
Take, for example, prior authorizations (PAs). In today’s tech-driven world, the PA process is still largely a manual one for payers, providers and patients alike. There are solutions that can solve for this, such as electronic PA, that streamline the approval process for imaging, reduce waste and improve patient access to care – and slowly, these technologies are beginning to spread.
As another example, research shows that automated invoicing and automated payments can improve transaction compliance and speed up how quickly providers are paid by their vendors. It is shocking in an era of credit cards, wire transfers and Venmo, that well north of 80% of all healthcare purchasing is done manually, using paper checks. And each one of those checks is expensive to process – $7 or more. Automating that process alone could save providers millions of dollars. As providers and payers look to gain efficiencies, I expect to see more technology-enablement across the healthcare setting.
JHC: How do you think Premier is positioned to help members in 2021 and beyond?
DeVore: Uniting an alliance of more than 4,100 U.S. hospitals and health systems and approximately 200,000 other providers and organizations, Premier and our members are transforming healthcare.
From supply chain solutions, integrated data and analytics, collaboratives, consulting and more, we have built a successful, mission-driven healthcare company that is focused on delivering innovative solutions to our members that help them deliver better care, improved outcomes and lower costs. Premier has a strong foundation, and the company is well positioned to advance these strategic objectives.
We have continuously proven our ability to innovate, evolve and move the ball forward to meet our members’ needs and drive industry transformation. With research demonstrating the struggles with U.S. maternal health outcomes, we are partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Women’s Health to leverage our technology and data to analyze risk factors and develop plans to address. As the nation saw COVID-19 cases surge last spring, we rolled out a syndromic surveillance app that is now helping health systems more quickly identify community cases and spread. And as providers continue to struggle in accessing PPE, together with our members, we are making vital investments to bring more manufacturing back to America and meet the needs of hospitals, frontline workers and patients.
As President and now incoming CEO, Mike Alkire will continue to oversee Premier’s ongoing strategic evolution with a member-focused mindset. Over his nearly 17 years with Premier, Mike has been instrumental in developing, building and executing Premier’s strategy, and he has played a key role in driving the company’s growth and success.
For me personally, it has been an honor and privilege to be a member of the Premier family. I am proud of all that we have accomplished, and I thank Premier’s employees for their dedication, passion and focus on serving our members and other customers to improve the health of our communities.