Member-directed Peer Networks Connect Health Care Leaders to Drive Change


How are leading hospitals addressing the issue of physician alignment in the transition to value-based care? What are the benefits and challenges of installing electronic medical record (EMR) solutions? Are there organizations that have developed processes in response to the increasing costs of biologics and specialty medications?

When health care organizations need answers to complex questions such as these, working together isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind, admits Kathy Christensen, vice president, networks for Vizient. But through Vizient peer networks, that’s exactly what happens when participating members’ leaders come together to learn from each other and grow their capabilities together in a collaborative, sharing environment.

“What we do is connect members, so if one is looking for expertise on physician alignment, EHR, or whatever the issue at hand happens to be, they are able to talk to their peers and hear new ideas and key learnings,” said Christensen, who oversees the implementation of Vizient peer networks.

Peer networks are among the many types of networks offered to Vizient members. Currently there are eight peer networks geared toward specific job roles such as chief financial officers. Three other peer networks are focused on specific topics. There are also 22 Vizient University Health System Consortium peer networks offered exclusively to academic medical center (AMC) executives and leaders that address strategic financial, clinical and operational functional areas. All are designed to connect members with diverse perspectives to learn, create, innovate and ultimately help drive change from the outside in, said Cindy White, vice president, methodology and programming for Vizient.

“Peer networks allow members to connect both in person and virtually, and to work together to address common areas of focus,” White said. “These networks offer education and opportunities to share solutions and experiences with specific audiences, and they are delivered to members on a local, regional and national basis. The networks focus on everything from like-minded community hospitals to large integrated delivery systems.”

Peer networks differ from performance improvement collaboratives at Vizient in notable ways. Primarily, peer networks offer a longitudinal approach to professional development and learning. Collaboratives are more data-driven, systematically pinpointing specific opportunities and are conducted over a specified period of time for rapid learning.

A legacy of connecting
The origin of peer networks dates back to 1977 when executives from VHA’s member hospitals asked each other if working together could lead to more advances and improvements. The answer was a resounding ‘yes,’ Christensen said.

“I had the pleasure of being around in January 1985 when VHA Gulf States was formed. Our hospital CEOs came together to serve on the executive board and quickly saw we needed to bring in our other member executives for network opportunities,” Christensen recalled. “There continues to be a member-led, member-directed approach in all Vizient networks. There’s a great sense of ownership when members are driving the agenda. It’s not competitive, it’s a trusted environment and it’s wonderful professional development.”

The power of peer networks has been proven time and again through testimonials, such as a former chief nursing officer who recently became the chief transformation officer at her hospital. “She said, ‘the first thing I thought was let me call Vizient to see if they have a network for CIOs and chief transformation officers because the CNO network was such a critical piece for professional development for me in my career,’” Christensen recalled.

New peer networks on the horizon
New areas of shared expertise and potential collaboration are constantly under consideration. Two new peer networks are scheduled to roll out in December: the Innovation Practices Network and the IT Optimization Network.

Christensen said the Innovation Practices Network is being organized by a group of respected and industry-leading members who are working together with Vizient to design the network and identify other member organizations with innovation centers and innovation executive roles such as vice president of innovation or transformation for participation. The network will be focused on all aspects of innovation and what it means for the future of health care.

“We’re bringing high-ambition members together with innovation expertise to revolutionize health care,” Christensen said. “Members will connect ideas, pilot test innovations and collaborate with partners to move concepts to solutions.”

For the IT Optimization Network, Christensen said a small group of members came together seeking a way for clinical leaders at larger integrated delivery networks to learn and share best IT optimization practices around tech topics such as EMRs, data analytics and cyber security.

“It is not a pure CIO play – it’s really a chief medical informatics officer or the strategy transformation officer,” said Christensen. “While we expect to have the CIOs at the table as the members discuss how they best optimize the technology, the network will be more driven by how clinical and executive leaders leverage the use of IT to enhance clinical and operational performance.”

Big benefits through peer networks
White noted that regardless of topic or region, at their core, peer networks build strong relationships and even stronger business outcomes.

“We help participants be successful in their role while also helping their organization be successful by giving them the latest information and contacts with people across the country who have done these things and have insights to share,” White said. “The conversations after these discussions are amazing as people suddenly understand how to get things done with a fully informed view of the challenges and opportunities.”

Christensen agreed, saying that networking in particular is an invaluable and essential benefit. Members are able to openly share in a safe and trusted environment. “You cannot put a dollar value on it but I’m a 31-year employee at Vizient and the number one thing I’ve consistently heard from CEOs to the director of materials management is that networking and developing meaningful relationships with peers empowers them to contribute in their own organizations in a much bigger way.

For more details about Vizient peer networks, contact Kathy Christensen.

For more information about Vizient University Health System Consortium networks, contact Angie Stefaniu.

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