The U.S. government’s US$642-million program to encourage the use of electronic health records through federally created Regional Extension Centers (RECs) will involve a two-tiered effort featuring customer relationship management technology. The REC program is one of several federal initiatives promoting electronic health records.
The first tier of all the initiatives, of course, is focused on the patient. The goal of the federal effort is to significantly improve patient care and the efficient delivery of health services to millions of Americans.
The improved contact among patients, doctors, and hospitals through the use of information technology will mirror the CRM efforts of commercial entities, such as retailers and financial service providers, in a customer-centric marketplace.
The second tier of the extension center initiative involves the use of a CRM platform within the program itself. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created 60 regional centers that will operate along the lines of agricultural extension centers.
Their purpose is to provide technical assistance to health providers in obtaining the information technology capabilities they will need to meet federal electronic health record goals.
100,000 Customer Potential
A key element in setting up the RECs was the development of a supporting information technology system between HHS and each center, as well as among the centers and the healthcare providers in each region.
To meet that objective, the centers required IT tools and resources relevant to the needs of the healthcare providers in helping them transition from paper to electronic forms.
HHS selected a Salesforce.com CRM program to support the work of the RECs. However, the Salesforce program will not be limited to the regional centers, doctors and hospitals participating in the program.
Information technology vendors seeking to market their products and services to healthcare providers should benefit as well. A major objective of the REC initiative is to assist at least 100,000 small healthcare practices in adopting electronic records.
“The ultimate goal of the REC program is to bring medical providers, especially those engaged in small practices, to the meaningful use of electronic health records,” said Mat Kendall, acting director for provider adoption support at the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
The federal electronic health records program is designed to ensure that doctors and hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid meet federal criteria for the “meaningful use” of such records by 2015.
Doctors are eligible to receive $44,000 each in federal assistance to meet that goal, while each qualifying hospital may receive similar incentive payments of $2 million or more. Failure to meet the requirement by 2015 will result in a reduction in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to health providers.
The REC program will involve more than the 60 centers. Each center will work with local stakeholders, such as medical associations and other groups. Nationally, that will include more than 4,000 entities. In addition, there is the goal of having the RECs collectively interact with those 100,000 providers.
“There are lots of people involved in the REC program, which is why a CRM approach is appropriate,” Kendall told CRM Buyer.
“First, you can reach a huge number of people because CRM programs are scalable,” he explained. “Also, many basic features of a CRM system are applicable within the context of contacting all the participants, such as utilizing basic demographics to track participants, linking contacts and de-duping records.”
Promoting a 360-Degree View
“The CRM system will be used by the RECs and HHS to track details about how many small practices have been contacted and educated,” Adam Horvath, director of public sector operations for Acumen Solutions, told CRM Buyer. Similar to a commercial company’s sales process, the CRM system will be used to track where each the of the small healthcare practices are in their decision-making process, and track milestones once the practice has selected a solution for electronic health records.”
HHS awarded a $5.2-million contract to Acumen Solutions to facilitate the deployment of the CRM program among the RECs.
“The CRM system also provides support for case management related to customer service for the small practices as they implement their electronic health records software selection,” added Horvath.
“HHS will use the CRM system to get a 360-degree view of their program efforts and the overall status, while also being able to drill down into specific details in any given area with the system’s dashboards and reporting capabilities,” he said.
The role of the REC could be significant in the procurement of IT products and services used by doctors and hospitals to meet electronic record requirements. Between February and April, HHS awarded 60 grants to RECs serving smaller population regions such as Alaska ($3.6-million), as well as to more densely populated states such as Pennsylvania ($43-million).
As a result, each center will have adequate financial resources to provide technical assistance to doctors and hospitals on making initial investments in IT, or on upgrading and integrating existing systems to meet the federal meaningful use requirements that were adopted by HHS in July.
Because time was of the essence in launching the program, the benefit of using a cloud computing, or Software as a Service, mechanism to support the RECs became apparent to HHS. Salesforce.com and Acumen Solutions partnered in submitting a bid to HHS for the task of setting up and operating an IT system designed to meet the goals of the regional centers program.
Although the tasks were complementary, HHS awarded separate contracts to each of the vendors for their specific responsibilities.
“The CRM platform we offered featured an enterprise-scope capability that would capture and link all 60 centers,” Kaveh Vessali, public sector director for Salesforce.com, told CRM Buyer, “and because of the SaaS, or cloud, aspects of the system, the RECs could gain access to the platform through an Internet browser connection. The cloud application eliminated the need for servers and individual site installations, and made it possible to set this up really quickly.”
About 10 weeks after HHS awarded the first REC grants in February, the IT platform was up and running. By July, 500 users had been hooked up to the system. Each of the 60 RECs will move at a different pace in setting up its own program, but the scalable nature of the platform will allow them to tap into the system when they are ready.
In addition, updates will be available almost instantaneously. For example, by July, Salesforce had already added a social networking feature to the platform, designed to facilitate the sharing of experiences among the RECs.
“The CRM capabilities we are using are similar to a sales or marketing effort in terms of providing outreach services, as well as feedback and collaborative tools for sharing information,” Peggy Evans, director of the Washington and Idaho Regional Extension Center, told CRM Buyer.
“The platform will also help the RECs and HHS monitor the progress of healthcare providers in adopting IT for the meaningful use requirement,” she added.
After utilizing the REC support, of course, each healthcare provider will eventually be selecting an IT vendor. Both Kendall and Evans stressed that their services maintain vendor-neutrality with respect to the actual selection of IT providers by doctors and hospitals.
That issue has been successfully addressed by WIREC, Evans said, noting that in working with the first several hundred healthcare providers in its region, the center has dealt with 14 different vendor systems.