Is Salesforce the big tech company that figured out healthcare?

The rise of customer relationship management

Organizations have been shifting to consumer-centric technology for a while, and the pandemic has accelerated that process, said Leah McCanna, a senior director at Huron Consulting, a Chicago-based firm. The shift toward consumerism is particularly true in the world of providers, she said, as more health systems recognize the limited capacity of electronic medical record systems.

“CRM is not just a marketing solution,” McCanna said. “It’s an end-to-end solution for the consumer in a way that an EHR is not. The EHR is a back-office tool. It is not your engagement tool.”

But it has not been easy for all health systems to make this change. While some are running unique use cases and pilots, McCanna said many are still figuring out how CRM technology can be used within his system.

“Getting to the point of figuring out what a CRM can do for them is the biggest challenge health systems face,” McCanna said.

Part of this challenge is that clinical evidence and peer-reviewed data for this technology remain limited, according to Lennox-Miller. While it may be easier to experiment for systems like Northwell Health or Mayo Clinic, she said many organizations won’t have the resources to invest in comprehensive CRM unless they can get evidence that it works.

Health care is an industry that is hard-pressed to change, and many outside tech companies have stumbled over its complexities, Cherington said. There’s also the issue of reimbursement, she said.

“While health systems are trudging through the seemingly endless transition to value-based care, they are still seeking to improve revenues by sticking to fee-for-service methodologies. As a result, their engagement strategies will be isolated and limited,” said Cherington.

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 introduced Cheers, its version of a customer relationship management tool, at the Society for Health Information and Management Systems conference in February.

Salesforce said it’s not deterred. “We think it’s great. We think it validates that CRM is just as important as EHR,” said Riley.

But Lennox-Miller of CB Insights said that if Epic, which is in a third of hospitals across the country, can 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 lot of non-Epic data, if it could send multi-modal messages and create patient profiles… that would devastate any other CRM on the market,” said Lennox-Miller.

at a recent event, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner said that the company’s CRM is advancing by leaps and bounds and that they have invested a lot of resources in its development. Along with its market share, Lennox-Miller said Epic has access to payer data, giving it a competitive advantage.

There’s also Cerner, which formed a partnership with Salesforce in 2018. It was later bought by another tech giant, Oracle, which is pushing most of Cerner’s customers to use its own CRM. Lennox-Miller said these companies could be tough competition for Salesforce.

“Those two companies make up a gigantic slice of the market,” Lennox-Miller said. “The biggest question any healthcare software company gets is, ‘Can I use this with my EHR?'”

Salesforce also faces competition in the startup world, 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 are seeing now with Salesforce, Innovaccer and many companies that are in this space, is that they are trying to act as the central pivot of data in health care, where the EHR is a data source that enters but not it is the main source of truth,” Lennox-Miller said. “When we talk about Salesforce going after EHRs, I think that’s where we’re headed.”

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