One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2017. Furst Group and NuBrick Partners, which comprise the companies of MPI, sponsor the awards.
Healthcare is personal.
Even though Premier Inc. is one the largest and most successful companies in healthcare, focusing on performance improvement, its CEO, Susan DeVore, has personal as well as professional reasons for seeking to transform the healthcare industry.
Her mother died of hospital-acquired sepsis, and her grandson had a major health scare in dealing with a severe hip infection that appeared during a hospitalization. She says her family is far from unique in that regard.
“Anybody who’s interacted with our healthcare system has experienced the fragmentation, the lack of coordination and the misaligned incentives,” DeVore says. “It makes it very hard to navigate. And when you have people who are vulnerable or fragile and put them in that system, there are opportunities for things to slip through the cracks that can have significant implications. There are things in your life that happen to you that you’ll never forget.”
The experiences have left her determined to make a difference in the quality and safety at America’s health institutions, although she maintains that we nonetheless have “tremendous healthcare” in this country.
“It does drive me,” she says. “It does keep me focused on the importance of this work. We want to solve problems before they become unsolvable. Premier is doing important work, and to be able to do it in scalable ways across the country for current Americans and future generations are what get me up every day. This is the best possible place that I could be to try to help drive that transformation.”
While there is much uncertainty and confusion over the future of healthcare, DeVore says she doesn’t think government is well-suited to steer the changes that are needed; they have to come from within the system.
“I don’t think government can solve the challenges. I don’t think insurance companies by themselves can solve the challenges,” she says. “I actually think healthcare has to be reformed and transformed from the inside.”
And Premier, which works with more than 3,700 hospitals across the country, handling everything from data analytics to national collaboratives to group purchasing, hopes to accelerate the pace of change in the industry.
“We have a big footprint,” admits DeVore. “About 85 percent of our healthcare systems would say we’re a strategic partner or an extension of themselves, as opposed to a vendor of services or technology. And, because we sit inside the healthcare systems, and because we have a tremendous amount of data and insight, we can collaborate and innovate with them, and have them be our test bed for ideas.”
That footprint is growing. Premier recently purchased Lincare’s specialty pharma business and also bought two continuum-of-care companies. It has expanded its collaboration with pharmaceutical giant Merck on chronic care and also has launched a partnership with the American Society of Anesthesiologists to test methods to tackle the opioid epidemic. They’ll work to address post-operative pain management in a number of Premier-affiliated hospitals.
“We can help advance policy changes and we can help advance how hospitals improve,” DeVore says. “When I came to Premier 13 years ago, I saw this incredible relationship with healthcare systems, with lots of data, and the ability to have an impact that is continuous as opposed to episodic. It’s a model that doesn’t exist in a lot of other places.”
The awards that Premier has garnered don’t exist in a lot of other places either. It’s a past winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and, for the past 10 years running, has been named one of the world’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute.
While Premier has flourished under DeVore’s leadership, she’s nonchalant about her own achievements. During talks with college students (and with her Premier staff as well), she is known to ask them what their superpower is, with the notion that passion unlocks stellar work – and superpowers working together in a team lead to great innovation. But ask her about her own superpower, and there’s nothing flashy about her answer.
“I think my superpower is the ability to assimilate and solve puzzles, and navigate around, under and over problems to get to the end goal,” she says. “I’d describe it as a navigation skill. I’m trying to see things that aren’t easy to see and to put the puzzle pieces together in a different way to solve problems or capture opportunities.”
With healthcare’s convoluted issues looking like a damaged Rubik’s cube, Premier’s healthcare members are probably glad she’s on the case.