Premier lifted the curtain on its new venture to hasten the clinical adoption of promising new technologies by hospitals and physicians last week.
Dubbed the Premier Innovation Institute, the company plans to push the use of drugs, devices and disease management protocols that are found to be safer, to offer superior outcomes and to be more cost-effective than current clinical practices. Premier announced the company's creation last fall (Oct. 27, 1997, p. 5).
However, the institute's dependence on financial support from the vendors whose products will be studied raises questions about the technology assessment venture's ability to remain objective and ultimately persuasive.
At a trustee education meeting held last week in Orlando, Fla., Premier President Alan Weinstein said five of 17 companies the alliance approached have agreed to contribute $2 million each over two years to get the institute rolling.
Serious discussions are under way with four more companies, he said.
Citing uncompleted contracts with a few of the five firms, the San Diego-based hospital alliance declined to name the sponsoring companies.
But MODERN HEALTHCARE has learned the companies that already have agreed to bankroll the institute are Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.; Glaxo Wellcome, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Fuji Medical Systems, Stamford, Conn.; Boehringer Mann-heim, Indianapolis; and Mallinckrodt, St. Louis.
All 17 companies queried, including the five companies that have agreed to pony up funding, have supply contracts with Premier's group purchasing arm, Purchasing Partners.
The institute's mission is twofold. First, it will study the process by which promising new products, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are embraced by clinicians and payers. The goal is to find generic best practices for speeding utilization.
As part of this effort, Premier will develop a database of early adopting institutions, clinicians and administrators among its 1,700 member and affiliate hospitals.
Second, the institute will assess one product per sponsoring company per year as a candidate for what Premier calls "market penetration projects."
The weight of the institute and the alliance will be thrown behind these products to fast-track their use. Specifically, the institute will use the results of its assessments to influence key decisionmakers among clinicians, administrators and payers.
Weinstein emphasized that a company's $2 million contribution is no guarantee its product will pass muster to become a pet project.
However, only products from those companies that fund the institute would be considered.
"It's a great concept but has structural flaws," said an executive whose company was approached but declined to sponsor the institute.
Despite the worthy goal of speeding dissemination of technological advances, he said, leaning on companies to foot such hefty bills for evaluations of their own products could undermine the institute's credibility with clinicians and payers.
Other vendors worry that funding -- or failing to fund -- the institute could influence the awarding of Premier purchasing contracts.
To allay such fears, Premier has constructed a "Chinese Wall" separating its group purchasing contract decisions from the work of the institute, Weinstein said.
"It has been made crystal clear to the sponsor companies that there is no quid pro quo regarding a Purchasing Partners contract award after a positive review of an innovation," Weinstein said.
As for the big fish among the founding sponsors, Weinstein said it was necessary to focus on the major players first to build the financial critical mass to start the institute, he explained. But to avoid even the "appearance of problems," Premier pledged to find ways to include smaller companies.
"We're still dealing with major companies we're doing business with, but down the road -- and sooner rather than later -- we'll be adding smaller and niche companies" to the institute's roster, he said.
For its part in the venture, Premier is making what it calls "parallel investments" of in-kind services worth $1 million a year, such as providing staffing, facilities and computer support. Premier will also lend management talent.
Weinstein is the institute's chief executive officer, and Charles Jacobson, M.D., an alliance executive vice president, is the institute's chief liaison with physicians.
An Austin, Texas-based consulting company called Health Care Concepts will manage operations of the institute and implement the market penetration projects. Charles Denham, M.D., president and CEO of HCC, is also chief operating officer for the institute.