Is CRM the Answer?

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 6.23.51 PMThe Internet has taught us valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t in regards to identifying, engaging, and retaining customers.

Retailers are increasingly using sophisticated data aggregation and customer stratification methods to build business and grow revenues. Other industries are also leveraging technological advances to directly improve and enhance customer relationship management (CRM).

The health care industry? Not so much.

For a variety of reasons related to regulatory requirements, competitive pressures, cost considerations and privacy concerns, health care has lagged behind other industries in the development of effective CRM strategies. The industry has been slow to adopt data collection and communication models that promote value-based care and the inclusion of care team members (both clinical and non-clinical).

Since I first entered the health care industry many years ago, I’ve been surprised by the absence of innovative CRM capabilities that are typically commonplace in other industries.

The contributing challenges may include:

  • Data fragmentation and the lack of data interoperability: This has made it difficult to collect, centralize, and distribute medical information in a way that can engage the patient more thoroughly.
  • Stakeholder competition: In the provider and health plan sectors, these competitive factors have resulted in a reluctance to both share patient data and collaborate within networks to improve patient outcomes without sufficient financial incentives.

Perhaps these challenges are related to not thinking of patients as customers.

The Affordable Care Act introduced several new changes that accelerate the need to improve outcomes via patient engagement and a customer-focused strategy. These changes include new financing, care model transformations, and value-based structures that leave no doubt – deeper patient engagement is more critical than ever, and developing commercial models to execute this new dynamic is essential.

With the advent of accountable care, provider organizations and integrated health systems may face increasing regulatory and industry requirements to improve clinical outcomes, while simultaneously reducing costs. From a practice standpoint, episodic treatment of symptoms versus the development of long-standing relationships that center on prevention and wellness is akin to missing the forest for the trees.

To build an effective patient relationship management (PRM) model, consider turning back the pages to a commercial generation. The lessons first imparted during the early days of the world-wide web and the development of e-commerce are still instructive and valuable for health care providers, 15+ years after they first began to take hold.

There are a number of strategies organizations can apply to make patient care more customer-centric:

  • Build systems that incorporate e-commerce/CRM tools: Other industries leverage these systems to great advantage. These components could enable patients to have full access to their medical records and subsequently improve their decision-making and management of their health care.
  • Consider utilizing traditional CRM systems: These systems can enable organizations to develop capabilities closer to traditional customer engagement. These systems often contain simple tracking and campaign management methods, the kind patients have perhaps seen with their dentists, but not their primary care physician or specialist.
  • Develop, promote, and utilize available mobile apps: There are tens of thousands of available apps out there that link to medical information, few of which are actually utilized on a regular basis. Health care providers and plan administrators should take advantage of these opportunities to incorporate and leverage patient generated data.
  • Identify, personalize, and utilize the appropriate communication channels to help ensure higher levels of patient engagement: If a patient and provider can accomplish the same outcome or better with text or email as they could in an in-office doctor appointment, then why not leverage the text message? If the goal is to assist a patient with smoking cessation, a text reminder may be more valuable and effective than having the patient schedule an appointment and come in to be given that reminder. The key is to leverage the right communication channel to achieve higher value per interaction.

Think about the conventional office visit. The first 10-15 minutes are usually taken up with questions about the patient’s reason for making the appointment and what’s changed since their last meeting. More direct patient interaction before the visit will likely permit more quality time in-office with the physician. If the future for our industry is to improve patient outcomes, facilitate better access, and reduce costs, patients need to be treated as customers who are willing and able to demonstrate a more active and engaged participation in their personal care.

We have the tools and resources. Now, we need a comprehensive plan, and a genuine commitment.

Hear more from Dan Housman on the topic of patient engagement:

To learn more about moving toward customer-centric care, visit the ConvergeHEALTH by Deloitte website.


Dan Housman is the CTO of Converge Health by Deloitte.

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4 replies »

  1. totally agreed Dan, while healthcare has moved the needle significantly on the science, we have always been a few steps behind when it comes to customer experience. now while the usual intent of customer engagement in other industries is to monetize, here it has a much bigger underlying advantage – improvement in overall healthcare status.

  2. I’ve never seen the tools my local health plan uses to manage claims, but I am pretty sure the screen they’re looking at looks nothing like the monster I’m looking at …

  3. I actually have built my own EMR system from this model. The reason I can do it is because my patients are actually my customers. They pay me for the care I give. Unfortunately, for most physicians’ offices, the customer is the 3rd party payor. This is why EMR systems are built to effectively and efficiently come up with codes and submit data for meaningful use. It is why CRM, if incorporated, will never be central.

  4. This is actually a great post.

    I’ve argued for a long time that what EHR vendors need to do is look at lightweight CRMs like Highrise and to a lesser extent Salesforce for their inspiration. The ability to tag, sort and customize would make EMRs much more happymaking …