Premier’s New CEO Mike Alkire Shares His Perspectives on the Road Ahead

May 11, 2021
The Premier Inc. health alliance’s new CEO, Mike Alkire, spoke this week with Healthcare Innovation, sharing his perspectives on where the alliance and the broader U.S. healthcare system are going

On May 1, Michael J. Alkire officially took over the position of CEO of the Charlotte-based Premier Inc. health alliance. The selection of Alkire by Premier’s board of directors was announced on February 2, the same date on which the alliance announced that Susan DeVore would retire after 12 years as the organization’s chief executive.

As the Feb. 2 press release stated, “Premier Inc. today announced that after nearly 18 years of distinguished service, Susan DeVore is retiring as the company’s chief executive officer and a member of its Board of Directors, effective May 1, 2021. Michael J. Alkire, president of Premier, will succeed DeVore and serve as president, CEO and a member of the Board, also effective May 1, 2021. To ensure a smooth transition, DeVore will remain with Premier through June 30, 2021, and will continue as an advisor to the company for two years after that.”

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of the Board’s diligent, long-range succession planning process and comes at a time when the company is well positioned to further advance its strategic objectives and create long-term stockholder value,” said board chair Terry Shaw, in a statement included in the press release. “I believe Mike is the ideal person to lead the ongoing evolution of Premier’s long-term strategy. He is a talented executive and strong leader who has played a key role in driving Premier’s growth and success. Mike has a deep understanding of the company and its industry, and his insights will be instrumental as we further differentiate Premier with innovative offerings that enhance service, performance and value for all stakeholders. The Board looks forward to working with Susan, Mike and the leadership team to ensure a seamless transition.”

And in the same press release, Alkire stated, “I am honored to succeed Susan and look forward to leading Premier and its talented employees during such an important time for the healthcare industry. Together, we are helping healthcare institutions and providers navigate the pandemic while positioning Premier for long-term, sustainable growth. I thank Susan for her leadership and guidance and am excited to work closely with the Board and the entire Premier team to achieve our goals and succeed into the future.”

DeVore commented in the press release that “It has been a privilege to lead Premier these past 12 years. We have built a strong organization, delivering critical solutions to thousands of hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers that enable better care, improved outcomes and lower costs for patients across the United States. I am incredibly proud of all we have accomplished together, and believe that now is the right time for Premier to transition to its next generation of leadership. Mike’s expertise and deep understanding of Premier’s strategy, operations, values and people make him the right leader. I thank every employee of the company for their help positioning Premier for success and driving important innovations to improve healthcare.”

The press release noted that “Alkire, who joined Premier in 2003, is a seasoned healthcare executive with nearly 30 years of operational, technology and business development leadership experience. He was named chief operating officer in 2013 and president in 2019. As president, he leads the continued advancement of Premier’s strategy to support members in providing higher quality healthcare at lower costs through the company’s clinical, financial, supply chain and operational performance improvement offerings. Under Alkire’s leadership, the company has produced significant financial growth since its IPO, expanded member purchasing volume through its GPO portfolio from $40 billion in 2012 to $67 billion, and strengthened its member relationships resulting in consistently high retention and renewal rates.”

And it noted that “In his role as president, Alkire also leads the evolution of Premier’s Performance Services business, which combines artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology, data and actionable insights with wraparound implementation services to improve health outcomes and reduce total costs. With his broad technology experience, he has led the implementation of machine learning and AI into Premier’s clinical decision support platform to streamline the prior authorization process for payors, improve health system performance, provide real-world evidence capabilities to life sciences companies, and support the alignment of health systems with employers. In 2010, Alkire helmed the launch of Premier’s direct sourcing business, and through the continued growth and geographic diversification of this business, combined with Premier’s co-investment with member health systems in two domestic personal protective equipment manufacturers, the company is helping create a more resilient healthcare supply chain. Prior to joining Premier,” the press release noted, “Alkire worked for 12 years at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in leadership roles including North American responsibilities for its supply chain and high-tech manufacturing sector. He received his undergraduate degree from Indiana State University and his MBA from Indiana University.”

This week, Alkire, who is personally based in Dallas and who will continue to commute, spoke with Healthcare Innovation Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding his new position, and his perspectives on the near future for Premier Inc. and for the U.S. healthcare industry. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Congratulations on your assumption of the CEO role at Premier. How are things looking, about one week in?

I’m very honored and humbled, as I begin to take over as the CEO. I’ve been at Premier close to 17 years. I know a lot about this place. The metamorphosis that Premier’s gone through in 17 years, from being a group purchasing organization to a true clinical decision support/group purchasing organization/performance improvement organization/advocacy organization.

How do you see those priorities, going forward into the near future?

We’ve been making some pretty significant investments in putting clinical decision support right into the workflow, so, at the point of care, using natural language processing (NLP), looking at unstructured physician notes, to determine whether or not imaging should be the next care decision. And with COVID-19, our focus around supply chain has really been about resiliency. One of the things the healthcare system at large realized was the criticality of supply chain for PPE [personal protective equipment] and drugs. So we’ve really been focused on helping to create a more resilient supply chain and diversification of supplies, including through domestic production supply.

With regard to performance improvement, we’re very focused on leveraging our data and our methodology to support our member organizations in that area. Right now, to help organizations build more agility into their cost structure, per COVID, determining where they need to invest, to help drive performance improvement, not only in terms of cost reduction but also overall performance improvement.

And in terms of advocacy, there’s been a substantial shift in the winds with this new administration, and we’re very optimistic with Liz Fowler taking over CMMI [the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation]. So we’re really bullish about helping to transform healthcare from the inside. Our ability to help organizations drive performance improvement. It’s really about creating a legacy of improved cost, quality, and outcomes in healthcare.

Industry observers have seen the AHA [American Hospital Association] retreating in terms of leadership on healthcare policy in recent years, with the exception of reimbursement and regulatory issues, while you’ve been advancing, not only in those areas, but also more broadly in terms of leadership of the patient care organizations making advances in the value-based world.

It’s really tough for me to comment in any way at the AHA. But what I can tell you is that what drives us is our members; their success is our success. And our members have always wanted us to help them evolve forward into the new models. So to cultivate our and our members’ long-term growth, we’ve always focused on coming up with the best ideas collectively. It just highlights the importance of our continuing to build our relationships with our members, with regard to the things that they need. We sit with them and listen. It allows us to expand into new markets and address the pain points that our members feel.  So it’s about cultivating that growth mindset along with our members. And we’ve always served, in partnership with our healthcare systems, as a catalyst for change. We’ve always had member organizations that have been way ahead, in terms of things like ACOs and bundles. And so we’ve always asked ourselves, what do we need to do, to support that evolution? So it impacts the way we make investments in NLP and machine learning and AI and all those things; and that drives our work as a catalyst for change. It comes ack to that symbiotic model. And I think our members know this; but we are a relentless champion for our members, to help them differentiate themselves in their markets, to have higher quality ratings and star ratings and lower costs.

Do you see yourselves becoming even more involved in federal healthcare policy advocacy going forward?

I think, with all the learnings we had from COVID, that there’s no way to not be more involved at the federal level. We took a lot of our NLP and machine-learning capabilities, and I co-authored a paper on syndromic surveillance, for the Harvard Business Review. The point is, the reason that syndromic surveillance was so important, is that we didn’t have the testing. So it’s really important that the federal government understand the importance of the NLP and machine learning capability that already exists, not only here at Premier, but elsewhere as well. So I think the federal government needs to learn more about syndromic surveillance and how diseases spread, to help manage situations. And two, we need to ensure we have a more resilient supply chain. We’ve got some proposals into the administration about doing a 30-percent tax offset for domestic manufacturers of PPE and generic drugs. We need to have that capability to protect our healthcare providers in the event that there’s ever an issue like this again—and to protect the population in terms of access to drugs. So for us, creating more resilient supply chains is absolutely critical. And we discovered that numerous organizations wanted to stockpile; but we can work on dynamic allocation of products at a national level. There are technologies that use AI and ML to understand what the needs are, because of the lessons learned in NYC and other places. So I think we’re going to be very involved in policy areas. That also includes prior authorization, because we can better standardize care, and improve quality and lower costs.

Do you see your advocacy leaders pressing ahead in terms of pushing for appropriate reforms around ACOs, bundled payments, etc.?

Absolutely. We will continue to support our members’ wishes to get involved in APMs [alternative payment models] and ACO [accountable care organization] development. A critical part of that is that we’ve got to have interoperability of data, and we’ve got to have access to that data from the EHRs [electronic health records], so we will continue to advocate in that area as well. But yes, with regard to MACRA, ACOs, bundled payments, and APMs, we will continue to advocate in that entire area. And our members are very interested in doing global payment for Medicare patients. So we’ll continue to focus on ideas that will make the information flow easier, or to allow for health systems to take global payments.

What do you personally want to achieve in the next year?

That’s a great question. At the end of the day, if we can help our members emerge from this pandemic and help them with getting access to the right technology and automate critical processes, and help them to ensure that the most appropriate care is being leveraged and can continue to create more resilience in the supply chain, that will be important; and to the degree that we can help build out clinical decision support capabilities in an era where prior authorization will be important—those are the things I’m focused on.

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