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Personal experiences drive Susan DeVore's efforts to transform healthcare from the inside out

By | September 20 th,  2017 | Modern Healthcare, Susan DeVore, transformation, Blog, CEO, Premier Inc., Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

Photo of Susan DeVore


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.



Susan DeVore’s bold leadership puts Premier on a path to transform healthcare

By | December 4 th,  2015 | women executives, innovation, Modern Healthcare, Susan DeVore, Blog, CEO, gender diversity, GPO, leadership, Premier Inc., Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


Susan DeVore, the CEO of Premier Inc., is one of the most successful executives in the country. DeVore took the helm in 2009, integrating the company’s supply-chain capabilities with a formidable treasure trove of data and analytics, to create a leading healthcare performance improvement company dedicated to transforming healthcare from the inside. She took the company public in 2013 with an IPO of $760 million. The stock opened above estimates at $27 per share and has increased in price more than 25 percent.


Yet DeVore has led the growing company with the heart of an entrepreneur, including spending $100 million to beef up and integrate its data platform with streams of information from its members’ statistics on supply chain, labor, clinical, and safety measures, among others.


“Because we have all this data at Premier, we’re able to build, test and scale ideas that might actually transform the system,” she says. “If you believe in innovation and want to make a big difference, then you have to experiment.”


Since assuming the role of CEO, DeVore has grown Premier into the largest alliance of health systems in the country. Majority-owned by its members, Premier represents 68 percent of U.S. community hospitals and leverages multiple businesses and partnerships along healthcare’s value chain to drive change. Under DeVore’s leadership, Premier:


• Operates a leading group purchasing organization (GPO) representing $44 billion in hospital purchasing volume, with 1,900 GPO contracts across 1,100 suppliers.


• Provides data and analytics, and cloud-based data-warehousing services to health systems through a platform amassing insights on approximately 40 percent of U.S. health system discharges, including clinical, financial and operational data, while enabling peer-to-peer information sharing among more than 100,000 healthcare workers.


• Convenes large-scale national collaboratives, with 1,100 health systems engaged in data-driven, transparent performance improvement efforts in partnership with federal agencies like CMS. These initiatives have influenced healthcare policy, including the Medicare value-based purchasing program.


DeVore is well aware that, today, just over 5 percent of all public companies are managed by a woman CEO and public boards of directors only have 10 to 15 percent representation by women. While she had always been a champion of fostering leadership at a general level, there came a point in time that DeVore recognized an opportunity to develop leadership programs specifically for women at Premier.


“I don’t want to discriminate the other way, if you will,” she notes. “I want to make as many investments in men and in ethnic diversity as I do in women. But there are some specific topics that women can address together: How are you perceived? How do you speak up? How do you have a voice? How are you memorable? How do you advance your career?”


Those are questions DeVore has succeeded in addressing in her own life and career. She says her upbringing in a large military family (she has four sisters and two brothers) helped her early to develop self-sufficiency.


“You have to be comfortable around new cultures and different languages. I think it builds a natural navigation skill,” she says. “You’re open to more perspectives and different ways of thinking.”


She remembers vividly getting lost in Germany as a 3rd or 4th grader when she got on the wrong bus when she was trying to head home from the swimming pool. She ended up at a bar on the Rhine River many miles away and knew just enough German to allow the bartender to call her parents, who came and picked her up.


Those types of moments are an invaluable training ground for leadership, DeVore says. “I think one of the most important skills in leadership is the ability to communicate – to ask questions, to stumble and fall and get back up. There are so many life experiences that can be applied to business settings.”


For DeVore, her career has given her a steely determination not to allow corporate culture to label or limit her.


“In so many ways, women leaders are just like men. We are driven, we build high-performing teams, we execute strategy, we deliver results, we define culture and we have a passion for innovation in our chosen industries. But a woman’s road to leadership is further defined by our ability to balance our other roles – as wives, mothers and daughters. And, in my opinion, that requires a mindset shift.”


This became clear to DeVore one night early in her career. Tending to a sick child, she says she worried about how to balance the need to forgo sleep and take care of her family with deadlines at work.


“I kept thinking to myself … I am going to be so tired tomorrow; how will I function? In that moment, I decided that I was going to simply enjoy this time as a mother. I rocked and sang and truly enjoyed that time quietly into the night. I decided in that moment that being a mom and a working leader wasn’t going to be a trick question for me. I was not going to pit my work and my home life against one another, ignoring one for a time while I tended to the other. I was going to make my own rules. From that moment forward, I began to live one, blended life, made up of choices, compromises and non-negotiables.


“I don’t know if it would work for everybody,” she allows, “but it worked for me.”
She is passionate about the work at Premier and its impact on quality and safety. She was not simply handed the CEO role back in 2009, and says the competition helped her to crystallize what was important to her.


“What became really clear to me was that I felt very passionate about the social mission to improve the healthcare system, and what I was going to be able to uniquely bring to that was business principles,” she says. “It’s important work but I can apply all of my business knowledge to it – and those two things are not mutually exclusive.”


The social mission resonates with DeVore because of her own experiences with less-than-stellar care during hospitalizations for her mother, father and grandson. Though she is quick to point out that most families have similar stories, her leadership as Premier’s CEO gives her determination a powerful outlet.


“It’s personal to all of us,” she notes. “For all of our employees at Premier, our mantra is ‘Care is a verb.’ We need to transform this industry and create a better healthcare system for future generations.”



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