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Michelle Allen of Premier: “Liberate healthcare data”

Liberate healthcare data — A common challenge that healthcare organizations encounter is the inability to connect various datasets in a way that gives leaders the tools and insights to make clear, measurable progress. Premier helped one of its members — Union Health based in Terre Haute, Indiana — build out a powerful analytics platform to transform the organization’s data into actionable […]

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Liberate healthcare data — A common challenge that healthcare organizations encounter is the inability to connect various datasets in a way that gives leaders the tools and insights to make clear, measurable progress. Premier helped one of its members — Union Health based in Terre Haute, Indiana — build out a powerful analytics platform to transform the organization’s data into actionable business intelligence. Now, leveraging Premier’s solution, the organization’s clinical, operational, and financial data is automatically delivered to the enterprise platform, while helping save time and reduce the possibility of human error.


As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Allen.

Michelle Allen is the Vice President of Clinical Intelligence for Premier Inc., where she is responsible for leading the clinically focused quality, surveillance and analytics solutions. Michelle has over 20 years of experience in healthcare information technology leading high performing teams in strategy, product development, engineering and operations for Premier, Hospira, GE Healthcare and Abbott Laboratories. Michelle earned her Master’s degree in Engineering Management from Northwestern University and a Bachelor’s of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been fascinated with healthcare my entire life. As a young child I wanted to be a doctor, but that interest evolved into biomedical engineering in high school and college because comparing the human body to mechanical and chemical systems just clicked for me. I started my career in diagnostic system design but was quickly drawn to the software aspects of these systems and ended up working on early interoperability projects with lab information systems. The presentation of data to support clinical workflow and influence provider decisions for better patient outcomes has kept me constantly challenged across the past 20 years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’ve always been driven in my work in healthcare technology by the potential to have an impact on patient care and the transformation of the way healthcare is delivered. I could not be more impressed or proud of the team I lead now and their recent response to the COVID pandemic.

My clinical surveillance and analytics teams went into overdrive as reports of COVID began in U.S. health systems. These teams worked around the clock to rapidly develop and deploy to our infection prevention users a number of custom COVID response tools. The analytics team developed interactive COVID dashboards that pulled information in real-time on the lab testing and census burden for organizations.

This was the first time for many people on my team where their professional and personal worlds collided, and they realized the importance of real time actionable data for our health systems and how that directly correlated to their quality of life. And they did this while working remotely and navigating the unique circumstances the pandemic created for everyone.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure any of my mistakes were funny — at least they aren’t yet — by they were definitely valuable in teaching me lessons and helping me grow. In my first job as a manager I had a hard time with delegation and trusting my team. When you are a type A perfectionist, it’s hard to let go and let someone else do something with an approach different from you own. We were working on a highly visible product release and my team was responsible for validating that it met all acceptance criteria. The amount of work was significant, and I had my own deliverables in addition to supervising the deliverables of my team. My inability to let go and trust my team resulted in long days micro-managing their work and then working in the lab until 2:00 or 3:00 on my own deliverables each night and all weekend. I was young, but 20-hour days 7 days a week for several months is not a mistake you repeat.

That experience taught me the importance of empowering your team by stepping back and giving them the freedom and accountability to own their work and the resulting successes and failures. People thrive when they know they are trusted, and I’ve learned that the best results are achieved when I articulate the vision and leave it up to them to determine how they get there.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Healthcare organizations are still expressing how they struggle to unlock retrospective, real-time, and predictive insights that drive decision making in our dynamic healthcare environment. Although so much data is input into the electronic health records, for most organizations, making that data actionable is still a challenge.

Premier has a long history of service to healthcare organizations. We are pioneers, not only in the group purchasing arena, but in clinical and cost improvement technologies. With our history and our extensive clinical expertise, we are positioned to help organizations flex, adapt and optimize. We provide dynamic stability for organizations to be successful. We have spent years building technology solutions in response to our health systems’ needs and as we flex and adapt to the changing landscape, we are enabling their ability to leverage the data that powers these solutions to reduce total cost and improve quality. The best part is we are taking these insights and helping them drive performance improvement by implementing guidance and the point of care.

One area that Premier has been laser-focused on in this ever-changing landscape is the role of surveillance and its ability to impact healthcare data amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While most organizations use electronic health records (EHRs) and other technologies that collect patient data, they have yet to unlock real-time and predictive insights that drive decision-making. Moreover, without an effective national or state system for disease surveillance and monitoring, the U.S. response to COVID-19 and future pandemics will continue to lag and impact millions of lives. I am proud of Premier’s ability to unlock data within the EHR to provide an early warning, forecast surges and help our frontline caregivers plan an informed and coordinated response.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

I think the most important responsibility as a leader is to give your team an aspirational, yet realistic purpose or goal and a safe environment for creativity and experimentation. The first thing a high performing team needs is a reason to show up. They need to believe in what they are working on and understand the desired outcome. They also need to feel safe to try new things and fail and then try again. When failure is an acceptable outcome, people become daring and push the boundaries on innovation. Combining passion and continuous learning creates an unstoppable team.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

There are some key incongruities in the U.S. healthcare system. We spend more on healthcare services than any other country in the world and possess some of the most advanced technologies meant to improve patient care. However, public perception and outcomes show that we have one of the most inefficient medical systems in the world. As we look ahead into 2021 and beyond, there are several areas of improvement that I believe could help healthcare organizations understand the causes these inefficiencies and help transform care as we know it:

Actionable Data — Many organizations have adopted technologies that gather patient data. However, most tools do not have the ability to collect real-time and predictive insights that provide evidence to help answer healthcare questions we’ll be asking tomorrow. This is an important aspect of data tracking, because without insights, providers are not able to utilize the data to improve patient care and help shape how we respond to future disruptions and disease outbreaks. With the right technology and real-time surveillance capabilities, organizations are better able to coordinate their response and allocate the right resources to the care settings and locations they are most needed.

Interoperable Information — One of the most urgent challenges impacting the U.S. healthcare system is how to make data readily accessible, so that information can be leveraged at any point in time, regardless of the platform being utilized. To change this, we must enable the flow of information and improve data availability so that providers can do their jobs more efficiently, with less room for error and reduced technological burden.

Supply Chain Resiliency — Over the last several years, we have seen significant growth in global trade and a corresponding rise in supply chains too reliant on too few locations for both raw materials and production. During the COVID-19 pandemic, global demand for PPE and other medical supplies and equipment, coupled with export bans from certain countries led to widespread shortages and created further challenges for organizations. We need to keep building resiliency into our supply chain and healthcare system by helping to ensure a healthy supply chain that is diverse in every sense of the word. From there we need to ensure that, in the midst of a crisis, we are able to use data to get the right supplies to the places most in need as efficiently as possible.

Health Disparities — The state of health inequities in the U.S. is a major contributing factor for why our healthcare system ranked so poorly. From race to gender identity, socioeconomic factors and geographies, our society is just beginning to address why these disparities exist. I am optimistic that we, as an industry, will be able to address and solve for these and offer real solutions in the not-to-distant future.

You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

My colleagues and I are always thinking of ways to improve care delivery. We all believe technology is the primary catalyst for driving this change and improving the health of our communities. The top-five changes we are working towards are as follows:

Liberate healthcare data — A common challenge that healthcare organizations encounter is the inability to connect various datasets in a way that gives leaders the tools and insights to make clear, measurable progress. Premier helped one of its members — Union Health based in Terre Haute, Indiana — build out a powerful analytics platform to transform the organization’s data into actionable business intelligence. Now, leveraging Premier’s solution, the organization’s clinical, operational, and financial data is automatically delivered to the enterprise platform, while helping save time and reduce the possibility of human error.

Optimize supply chain solutions — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as a country, we have struggled to find a reliable way to predict current supply chain levels. Premier has been at the forefront of detecting upcoming supply chain issues related to PPE, drugs, testing and blood supplies to help all stakeholders make informed, data-driven decisions. Premier has been working diligently on healthcare supply chain issues for years — and in overdrive since the disaster response team was activated in January 2020.

Improve Response to Global Outbreaks — Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. have been stymied by the lack of an effective national surveillance system that can track new cases and consumption of critical supplies in real-time. As we head into another wave of this pandemic, Premier has implemented technologies to help provider organizations anticipate upticks in cases and forecast which supplies are needed in specific care setting at any given point in time.

Address disparities in healthcare — With the COVID-19 pandemic widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged populations, the need to identify inequalities in care and then address them has never been more important. It is well-known that without specific measurement, disparities in care can go unnoticed. While more organizations are beginning to adopt technologies that collect real-world patient data, most tools do not have the ability to segment by race and socioeconomic status, which is the first step in uncovering the disparities that exist. Premier’s technology is helping healthcare organizations not only uncover disparities, but also provide specific measurement, guidance and meaningful insights quickly. To this end, Premier recently partnered with the HHS to address disparities in maternal care and identify prevention strategies.

Form collaborative partnerships — Throughout the pandemic, Premier has been proud to set aside competitive boundaries and leverage our relationships and expertise to address challenges and enable timely access to supplies, intelligence and technology. I am proud that we have served as a trusted connection point for healthcare providers, life sciences companies, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and the government. Our work has manifested in a variety of ways including white papers on insights generated by the Premier Healthcare Database and how clinical surveillance can help in the re-opening of communities.

Ok, its very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

It is no secret that healthcare lags behind other industries when it comes to adoption of technology and innovation. The fax machine was cool in the 1980s, common in the 1990s, a relic in the 2000s and a liability in the 2020s. As an industry we need to accelerate the speed of adoption and bring healthcare into the modern era in a way that is akin to the other parts of our lives like retail, banking and travel (pre-COVID, when we could actually travel).

While helpful to patient care, most electronic health records operate behind closed systems that limit the use of data to their platform only. In many cases, they aren’t able to communicate with other electronic health record systems. There are any number of analogies that come to mind for this. I like comparing it to having an ATM card from your local bank, that won’t get you into the bank of the city you are visiting because the EMV chips aren’t compatible.

Too much data is locked in proprietary systems and this handicaps the work that so many are doing. Interoperability is one of — if not the most — critical step to enable positive change in healthcare.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

I think the forward-thinking providers — and those are usually the best ones — are focused on bringing their creativity to bear when they approach today’s evolving landscape and regulatory pressures. These are the providers who are at the forefront of change and are delivering new levels of convenience, simplicity, access, and total population health improvement.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two: “It always seems impossible until its done,” Nelson Mandela and “If you always do what you’ve always done….You’ll always be where you’ve always been” — Henry Ford.

I believe in the importance of continuously learning throughout our lives. If we get too comfortable with the current state we stop pushing for a better outcome. However, I also think its important to have balance and break up those impossible goals into smaller bite size achievable outcomes. I am constantly reminding myself to just get started — even when I don’t see a clear path to success…because fear can prevent people from taking risks and trying new things, meaning they just stand still.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am most excited about the work we are doing to bring all of the real-world, real-time data we have to life. We are using this data to help:

Respond to global outbreaks by leveraging our healthcare data and AI-optimized technology in combination with clinical-based human ingenuity.

Standardize care by allowing our cutting-edge tools to remove unnecessary and excessive care that lead to increased costs, inefficiencies or bad outcomes.

Sustain healthy margins by helping hospitals, health systems and other provider organizations control and simplify payments by ensuring treatment is clinically appropriate and guideline-based.

Accelerate value through evidence by cleaning, mapping and standardizing all of the data that we have (which includes data on 45% of all U.S. inpatient discharges).

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am passionate about developing female executives, especially in engineering, science, and technology. I firmly believe the strongest leadership teams are diverse. I have been fortunate in my career to have several strong women as mentors and coaches to help me navigate and grow as a leader. I want to pay it forward and help other women learn to leverage their strengths and excel in leadership.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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