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Spreading CRM's Message

By Denis Pombriant
Feb 12, 2019 10:43 AM PT
salesforce health cloud offers new tools that apply crm platform principles to healthcare

I've recently been writing a lot about platforms -- not about any one in particular, but about the importance of platform to the future of what we all do in CRM and beyond. Platform provides a level of abstraction between machines and humans, who must get useful work out of them.

Inventing the platform was like inventing the power loom or the printing press. It was a way to separate the creative effort from rote production. I've gone so far as to say that the platform-based CRM system has become a big demonstration project for the platform. If it can support this, what can't it do?

On a more prosaic level, one of the things that platform is proving to be very good at is providing an engagement layer on top of older and more rigid systems of record. Older systems are really good at storing data, but not necessarily at telling us what the data means -- its information content. We still talk too much about data -- about the orange when what we crave is the juice.

New Health Cloud Tools

At the engagement level, Salesforce has been taking big steps to add CRM values to healthcare through its Health Cloud. At the HIMSS 2019 conference in Orlando this week, one of the big health information systems conferences of the year, Salesforce unveiled new capabilities that borrow directly from CRM to support healthcare.

In the process, Salesforce has been helping to change the model of healthcare in the United States from a break-fix model that's been around for more than a century, to a wellness paradigm that seeks to prevent illness. W. Edwards Deming would be proud.

Among New Salesforce offerings:

  • Social Determinants of Health. I'm not completely sure how this works, but it looks like a way of capturing a broader data set on patients -- like economic status, ability to drive or access transportation, and ability to read and understand the treatment instructions we all go home with these days. These are things not typically captured in the conventional medical record, but without them, it will be hard to raise the bar on treatment success rates.
  • Mobile-First In-Home Care Collaboration. This looks much like an application of field service management to patients, and it uses Field Service Lightning for Health Cloud to do the job. As many CRM people know, successful field service is all about bringing resources to bear at a remote location, but that means much more than having a well-stocked truck or toolbox. It means being able to access others to deliver service. This collaboration product enables dispatchers to bring together specialists by ability and location to support traveling caregivers.
  • Personalized Patient Journeys. As you might expect, this one brings in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud to apply journey mapping and execution. Simply put, any treatment situation, from recovering from surgery to managing diabetes, has a predictable trajectory -- but individuals might not always stay on their trajectories. A wound might get infected, or someone's blood sugar might be hard to stabilize, but even those exceptions can be built into a journey map along with standardized care regimens. More likely, a provider might want to keep a stream of information going to patients managing similar issues such as all Type 2 diabetes patients between 50 and 60.

All of this brings into sharp relief the issue of containing healthcare costs. Unlike almost any other industry you can name -- other than education, which has a lot in common with healthcare -- costs have remained stubbornly high and have continued to escalate. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Anything that can be manufactured eventually can achieve benefits from economies of scale, but healthcare and education are not manufactured.

Every hot appendix has to be removed by a highly skilled and trained surgeon; every diabetic needs to be diagnosed and monitored. There are few economies of scale, but we can do a lot to improve prevention. When that's not enough, we can bring systems of engagement to bear so that we waste as few resources as possible.

CRM principles like systems of engagement have been changing the healthcare equation by capturing more data and moving information around to inform care decisions at every level.

My Two Bits

Applying CRM to healthcare is a big deal, but let's be careful what we mean by that. The stovepiped CRM of a decade ago wouldn't be helpful here. It's only since the addition of social networking ideas, analytics and machine learning that we've been able to see ahead of the customer, and now the patient.

We know where they are in a journey based on probabilities derived from thousands of past actions, and we know logical next steps for the same reasons.

Healthcare also has an important bias working in its favor: People want to be well and to get better, in the vast majority of cases. You can't say that about customers in a purchase situation, because the motivators are more nebulous. You can't even say that all students want education. It's nice to think they do, but how many do their homework regularly?

We might have entered a golden age of CRM with all the platform additions of the last decade, beginning with social networking. However, it's disappointing to see the fear and disappointment emanating from scandals about misuse of social networking and the fear of AI, and machine learning eliminating jobs.

I guess that's what you get in a maturing market. Nonetheless, there's a lot of good being done by CRM platforms, and healthcare is a good example of an area where its influence will have far-reaching effects.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.


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