Healthcare has always been about patients. But in a business sense, healthcare organizations have rarely thought of the patient as a consumer. When it comes to patients, the business focus has been to emphasize cost efficiency and centralized regulations to rein in costs.

That's changing, however. Hospitals, healthcare systems, and other facilities are beginning to follow the lead of businesses in other industries and are shifting to an approach that looks at the patient as a consumer and puts the needs and requirements of that consumer ahead of everything else.

The consumer-first approach allows organizations to speak directly to the individual patient to help them be more a knowledgeable consumer of healthcare services. Patients, then, can work with physicians to understand their own health risks and treatment options, taking on an active role in making their own decisions.

But, “If you want to develop a customer-driven strategy, you have to have data on the customer," says John Quelch, professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. That data can come from a variety of sources — insurance claims, clinical interactions, shopping history, income — but together it helps healthcare marketers determine how an individual consumer behaves and what sort of messages they'll respond to.

Collecting that data can be an arduous task, though, because it's commonly fragmented, stored on different computer systems and in paper files, and at different hospitals and insurance companies. And EMR systems are not sufficiently robust to capture and disseminate demographic and preferential information on patients.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system can bring all that data together to paint that clearer picture. In fact, while it's easy to talk about putting consumers first, it's impossible to do without a healthcare CRM system in place.

A new view of the patient as consumer
Incorporating a CRM system into your healthcare marketing and clinical areas accomplishes two important goals. First, it helps health systems bring together information from disparate systems to create a 360-degree view of the patient/consumer. Second, it shifts the discussion about patients into a discussion about consumers — a small but important distinction in an age where patients increasingly have choices as to where and how they receive healthcare.

The best CRM systems include powerful and intuitive segmentation capabilities with embedded predictive analytics to help marketers and healthcare systems easily identify and communicate with the individual patients most likely to need services and respond to personalized messages.

With one in every 20 Google searches relating to health information, CRM systems are becoming increasingly important as a tool for healthcare organizations to help patients help themselves. Healthcare CRM technology presents the ability to segment out patient information (demographic, psychographic, social, behavioral, etc.) to ensure the right message reaches the right patient at the right time. By building, launching, optimizing, and measuring multi-channel marketing campaigns, healthcare organizations can understand more about patient behavior and craft ongoing messaging accordingly. The end result is stronger relationships with patients that continue throughout the patient lifecycle.

Benefits in clinical care
CRM data can be used by healthcare staff to improve the patient experience at every touch point. It can be used by executives to create market projections and reports, by contact center reps to better engage consumers, by the patient experience team to solicit patient reviews and manage patient experience surveys, and by clinical care teams to better intercept and educate at-risk patients.

Let’s look at an ideal scenario, future-thinking but where we should be heading with our thoughts around healthcare data use:
Imagine the hospital calls Mr. Jones to schedule his CT scan. But the scheduler doesn't know anything beyond his name and the type of scan Mr. Jones needs. What if he's allergic to the iodine-based materials used in the scan? Will Mr. Jones remember to tell the scheduler that? What if he now has a different insurance? What if he depends on his daughter to drive him to his appointments, but she's unreliable and so he often misses appointments?

Now imagine the scheduler has demographic and preferential information about Mr. Jones readily available. The scheduler has already spoken to Mr. Jones' physician about the allergy, and a prescription has been called in for medication he should take before the scan. Mr. Jones has been to see a system physician since changing insurance, and the information about the new insurance is also now included in Mr. Jones' record. And the scheduler already knows about the transportation issue and has a plan of action to discuss with Mr. Jones.

The chances of the scan going smoothly — for Mr. Jones and the hospital — are greatly increased by the data available in the second scenario. But that's only possible if you have a tool that unifies your data.

Keeping your consumer-first strategy on the right path
A consumer-first focus will fail without data to drive it. And if your organization can't combine and analyze data from a variety of sources, your consumer-first strategy could quickly run into a ditch. But not all healthcare CRM solutions are the same. Some don't offer the ability to integrate data in that way, limiting your CRM strategy growth.

If you want to get more use out of a healthcare CRM and see how it can drive growth for your organization overall, check out our infographic on CRM Use Cases.