Rise of customer relationship management
Organizations have been shifting toward consumer-focused technology for a while and the pandemic accelerated that process, said Leah McCanna, senior director at Huron Consulting, a Chicago-based firm. The shift to consumerism is particularly true in the provider world, she said, as more health systems recognize the limited ability of electronic health record systems.
“CRM isn't just a marketing solution,” McCanna said. “It’s an end-to-end consumer solution in a way that an EHR is not. The EHR is a back-office tool. It's not your engagement tool.”
But it has not been easy for every health system to make this shift. While some are running use cases and one-off pilots, McCanna said many are still figuring out how CRM technology can be used within their system.
“Getting to the point of figuring out what a CRM can do for them is the biggest challenge that health systems face,” McCanna said.
Part of this challenge is that clinical evidence and peer-reviewed data for this technology remains limited, according to Lennox-Miller. While it may be easier for systems like Northwell Health or Mayo Clinic to experiment, he said many organizations won’t have the resources needed to invest in a comprehensive CRM unless they can get proof showing it works.
Healthcare is an industry that’s hard pressed to change and many outside tech companies have tripped themselves up on its complexities, Cherington said. There is also the matter of reimbursement, he said.
“While health systems trudge along the seemingly endless transition to value-based care, they still seek to improve revenues by holding on to fee-for-service methodologies. As a result, their engagement strategies will be siloed and limited,” Cherington said.
Epic challenge on the horizon?
Outside of an industry that’s hard pressed to change, the biggest test Salesforce may face comes from Verona, Wisconsin-based Epic Systems. The EHR giant showcased Cheers, its version of a customer relationship management tool, at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in February.
Salesforce said it isn’t deterred. “We think it’s great. We think it validates that CRM is just as important as EHR,” Riley said.
But CB Insights’ Lennox-Miller said that if Epic, which is in one-third of hospitals across the country, can get its act together on this platform, it should scare the Salesforce team.
“If Epic suddenly had a really good, mature, well built, easy-to-use CRM that could access a breadth of non-Epic data, if it could do multimodal messaging and create patient profiles…that would devastate any other CRM in the market,” Lennox-Miller said.
At a recent event, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner said the company’s CRM is making strides and that they’ve put a lot of resources into developing it. Along with its market share, Lennox-Miller said Epic has access to payer data, which gives it a competitive advantage.
There’s also Cerner, which formed a partnership with Salesforce in 2018. Then it was bought by another tech giant, Oracle, which is pushing most Cerner clients to use its own CRM. Lennox-Miller said these companies could be tough competition for Salesforce.
“Those two companies make up a gigantic sector of the market,” Lennox-Miller said. “The biggest question that any software company in healthcare gets is, ‘Can I use this with my EHR?’”
Salesforce faces competition in the startup world too, experts say. One company in this space, Lennox-Miller said, is San Francisco-based Innovaccer, which has raised more than $375 million and is valued at $3.2 billion.
“What we’re seeing now with Salesforce, Innovaccer and a lot of companies that are in this space, is that they're trying to act as the central data pivot in healthcare, where the EHR is one source of data coming into that but it isn't the primary source of truth,” Lennox-Miller said. “When we talk about Salesforce going after EHRs, I think that’s where we’re headed.”