The CRM-ization of Healthcare

We’ve been watching the CRM-ization of healthcare for a while. A few years ago, Salesforce embarked on parallel paths. The obvious option was to build tools that enabled users to craft systems of engagement. The second started when the company also began reaching out to various industrial sectors with its technology and those of some partners.

The result has been a vibrant vertical industry approach and a plethora of apps that do more than capture and store data, aka “systems of record.” Today, Salesforce and partners are deeply involved in delivering systems of engagement in specific industries.

Many of the industrial apps apply customer relationship management techniques to unique situations, and the CRM aspects of marketing ideas and serving customers are easily translatable.

However, along with that Salesforce has touted its platform as a general-purpose development tool, capable of supporting systems of engagement in a variety of areas that are sometimes distant from the original CRM mission.

Health Cloud

Healthcare is one of those areas. CRM works remarkably well with some aspects of healthcare — for example, using call center tools and techniques to proactively remind patients of a pending appointment or to take their meds.

With this we’re witnessing CRM invade one of the most conservative areas of IT. Salesforce is catching healthcare at the moment it appears that people are awakening to the idea that they need to be wise consumers of healthcare just as much as they need to pay attention to the details of buying a car.

It’s also a time of transition from a paradigm of “fixing” broken patients to one of keeping them well, and you need systems of engagement for that.

“Connected Healthcare Consumer,” a recent research report from the company, says as much. Customers — or in this case, patients — are demanding the same kinds of access to their healthcare vendors they’ve demanded elsewhere.

For instance, 94 percent want access to walk-in clinics, and 76 percent want in-home visits — something doctors used to do routinely. Also, 68 percent want mobile apps for health coaching. That’s all CRM, and we’ve seen this kind of thing play out in other industries as they adopted cloud-based CRM and demanded more purchase options and advice online.

The drivers for all this are also common. There’s a distinct need for the healthcare product or service to come to and fit into the busy lives of customers. We saw a wave of e-commerce and omnichannel service and support evolve while medicine remained static. Medicine needed smarter systems, and they had to be cost-effective and secure. Today artificial intelligence is providing the smarts, and platform is delivering the tools.

What Do Patients Want?

Aside from paying for care — which CRM by itself isn’t in a position to affect, though 64 percent rated paying as somewhat or very challenging — challenges included taking time off from work, which 51 percent found somewhat or very challenging. Forty-four percent said finding health services nearby was somewhat or very challenging. The current crop of healthcare systems of engagement are designed to help with these and other challenges.

Today a lot of service or information that patients might need doesn’t have to come directly from healthcare providers. So, in addition to bringing systems of engagement to the bedside, Salesforce just announced innovations to bring pharmaceutical and medical device teams closer to their customers.

For instance, “62 percent of healthcare consumers say it’s very important for pharmaceutical companies to educate them on how to get the most from their medication,” notes the “Connected Healthcare Consumer” report. That’s certainly something that a doctor or nurse could do, but over the years we’ve become expert at finding our own answers.

Sure, there are situations where patients could go too far with the information they can access online, but that was always a risk. Perhaps a greater risk is for providers to lack information because data is spread out across silos.

The Salesforce Health Cloud is designed to help by transforming the patient journey — giving organizations actionable information in one place for improved internal and external collaboration, and smarter data-driven decisions.

Finally, in the medical device arena, CRM is front and center with tools that help build customer relationships between device makers and their professional consumers. There are new solutions for sales agreements, which can be lengthy and detailed, as well as account-based forecasting to improve the accuracy of sales forecasts, which can be long affairs.

My Two Bits

All of this by itself is a drop in the bucket of healthcare IT, but it’s amazing how many drops already have reached the bucket, and how many good ideas are out there. To be honest, it’s also amazing how much low-hanging fruit is available for the picking.

Healthcare is one-sixth of the U.S. economy. One in every six dollars of GDP goes to clinics, doctors, pharmaceutical and device makers, and others. The U.S. also has some of the most expensive healthcare costs among its peer industrialized nations. The U.S. spends upwards of twice as much per capita as its peers. There’s intense interest in lowering costs to make the nation more competitive, and believe it or not, IT is an important gatekeeper.

Inaccessible siloed information often has to be duplicated to provide effective treatment (translation: we’ll re-do that lab work). When the information can be accessed, it often has to be transmitted by fax machine. So, yes, IT will be an important part of fixing U.S. healthcare.

Converting aging healthcare IT requires approaches that surround old technology with better and newer systems, while enabling old systems to continue functioning. Cloud systems of engagement based on powerful and easy-to-use platform technology will be a big part of the solution.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Denis Pombriant

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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