Healthcare, CRM's New Vertical

Healthcare might offer the best example of the potential for vertical market or industry-oriented customer relationship management, but most people in CRM may not understand or realize this. Healthcare is, after all, a bit of a stretch from what we do in the enterprise or small and mid-sized business world, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

In both spheres we see a relatively small number of highly paid and overworked people addressing the needs of a vast number of people — and their data — who need something. The big difference between industry and healthcare is that in industry we deal with products and services, and in healthcare we deal with ideas and services.


Yes. The entire healthcare industry can be reduced — somewhat simplistically, I admit — to disseminating the idea of wellness. This idea is as concrete as a product, if only to an individual. The healthcare model most of us probably grew up with is break-fix, so wellness needs some explaining.

Plan Monitoring

Break-fix is just what it sounds like, and for a long time healthcare has been about getting better. However, over many years we’ve discovered that getting better is very hard to do. It’s expensive, potentially uncomfortable, and it can take a while.

Germs become resistant to antibiotics, and cancer is a tough challenge from any angle. Better to avoid getting sick, if you can, in the first place. That’s the essential point of wellness. No doubt we’d all vote for wellness in 10 out of nine elections, but wellness is not foolproof. It competes with other needs — like “won’t this taste good?” and “I want/need this even if it’s bad for me.”

At the end of the day we all want to be well in the same way that Saint Augustine wanted to be good — just not yet. So, the idea of wellness must be sold and maintained, which is where CRM comes in.

At its core, CRM is a set of applications that address the horizontal needs of most businesses. We all need to market, sell to and service customers, and verticalizing a CRM system to support line-of-business amounts to building-in the proper process rules.

In healthcare too, many processes are oriented to manual compliance. We have systems of record that capture all sorts of treatment data, but for implementing treatment plans we rely on human beings. Patients have to remember to take their meds, go to physical therapy, and generally follow a treatment plan.

Supply Management

A story on the opioid crisis, published last week in The New York Times, shows how the manual parts of following treatment plans can be a weak link. The story deals with a court case in an Ohio federal court, where bright minds have been trying to deal with the crisis.

The strong implication is that we need to get some of the opioids out of the patient side of the distribution channel, but that’s proving to be difficult. Many people get opioids for a variety of pains but fail to take all the pills or misplace them, or they get stolen. Taking some of these pills out of the distribution channel won’t be done easily, because the manual system needs pills sloshing around in it to ensure that when a patient really needs a pill one is available.

If you apply a CRM approach to the problem, you might discover that the distribution channel can shrink with no adverse effects on the patient. Outbound calling tied into a patient CRM database not only can remind people to take their meds but also can manage the inventory in a patient’s possession and deliver a new batch when appropriate, or pick up unused pills when needed.

As luck would have it, Salesforce last week made some announcements that can get us closer to that goal. At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Las Vegas, Salesforce introduced Health Cloud Care Gaps, a solution that enables providers to monitor a patient’s adherence to a care plan. The CRM-based system captures a patient’s data and compares it to the patient’s plan, noting gaps or deficiencies to be followed up.

Using such an approach can speed recovery and reduce the number of re-admissions to hospital caused by not following post-care plans, which can save money. At the same time, Cerner, a major software vendor in the space, announced it was including Salesforce with its HealthIntent platform for population health management.

My Two Bits

In a certain way, the opioid crisis is the outgrowth of over-reliance on a manual system that desperately needs computerization. The healthcare industry is bursting with great ideas for how to help people live longer and healthier lives — but in some cases, it has been slow to adopt information technologies that enable better processes, partly because of issues like cost and security.

A cloud computing approach that leverages CRM’s systems-of-engagement approach is a good fit for some of the things that ail healthcare IT. It is likely that in a short time, approaches like Salesforce’s and Cerner’s will become a standard of care that will advance the idea of wellness. It will cause all organizations to adopt similar solutions or risk not being aligned with best practices. Ending the opioid crisis might be an incidental benefit.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, 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.