Friday, May 10, 2013

How CRM Solutions can Lower Customer Churn in the Healthcare Industry

People often feel that the healthcare sector is all about large corporate centres running up unnecessary bills for patients that do not really need such extravagant treatment. And unfortunately, in many cases, this was the exact scenario that was playing out. However, now with a number of corporate hospitals offering state-of-the-art treatment catered to patients by doctors with multiple foreign degrees, the competition is cut throat. This is the reason why hospitals need to turn themselves into dependable brands and for any brand to survive, the most important factor to keep track of is 'customer satisfaction'. Unfortunately, this is where hospitals are lacking most.

A queer problem
An incident that took place a few years ago caught the eye of the healthcare sector like never before. A well known healthcare facility in Washington noticed that many hospitals were reporting cases where patients that had been supposedly treated and discharged just weeks ago were returning with similar symptoms to the ER. The doctors treating the patients felt that perhaps better patient management the first time itself would have prevented this from happening. They said that many readmissions of these patients could have been avoided if better post-op and follow up care had been followed. However, there was no significant way of knowing or predicting which patients would return with an illness again. The situation worsened when Medicare, the American insurance company for elderly patients, decided to penalize hospitals for patients that were falling sick and needed to be readmitted in less than a month after being discharged.

To deal with the problem at hand, rather than consulting with physicians and surgeons, the hospital decided to rope in a computer scientist who also happened to be a physician. Rather than overworking the residents with writing down and filing data, the scientist and his colleagues built an analytical tool that could analyze more than 300,000 patients' visits to the ER. This system tried to predict patient outcomes as well by forming correlations between 25,000 variables including patient medications, vital signs and their attending physicians.

During the data analysis there were quite a few surprising findings. Firstly, it was noticed that the tipping point in the ER was seen to be 14 hours; which meant that any patient that was in the ER for a period longer than 14 hours had a higher chance of being readmitted. Another unexpected finding was that patient charts which had the word ‘fluid’ written on it had a higher chance of being readmitted.

All of these findings were then added to a program that is called the Readmissions Manager, which a top software vendor sells as part of its solution specially designed for healthcare providers. It is said that software like these help to produce a patient forecast on the whole, including the treatment success rate and the patient’s chance of readmission. Also, a physician can assess and decide follow up appointments on the basis of this forecast.

The lesson learnt
It is said that around every one in five patients in an American hospital needs to be readmitted in a month’s time. This simple inefficiency costs Medicare (a calculation that can be extended to the regular taxpayer) around USD 17 billion a year. The situation is even worse in hospitals in developing countries like India. The amount of data that is lost, which could otherwise have been used to map out an accurate prognosis of any patient, is often astounding. Patient allergies, precautions, medical contraindications and treatment response, if all compiled, stored and made easily accessible will not only allow patients to go home safely knowing that they won’t be coming back anytime soon but also prevents several lawsuits for the hospital. More so, this data can always be used in journals and has tremendous potential to be used in research for vaccine and medicine responses in the future.

Enabling holistic Knowledge Management
One of the most effective ways to store and access data from a centralized location randomly is with a CRM software. The reason why CRM solutions in healthcare are considered to be so important is that they make essential patient information so easy to find and collate. This makes the work of the physician and the nursing staff trouble-free. This way, even if a patient calls for an emergency consultation, rather than having to wait for a relative to come by with the required information regarding his previous prescriptions and allergies, the doctor can easily view all the basic information related to the patient through a single interface and offer the right treatment course effortlessly.

However, one needs to understand that CRM is a software that must be updated on a regular basis; all the interactions, medications and treatment options of each patient needs to be entered into the system. This includes details of the in-patient and out-patient areas, accessible simultaneously from a single interface.

To simplify through an example, if the hospital in Washington had discovered all the readmissions were due to a specific drug prescribed by their doctors, they could instantly create a mailing list of all relevant patients, add personalized email/ SMS messages and simultaneously blast all of them through the CRM software solutions. The software would also track message deliveries and generate an alert for pending/ cancelled deliveries. In addition, from day one, a special group of experts could monitor social sites to track and respond to all user generated content related to this grave issue through social CRM, thereby lowering rapid customer churn.

Managing large amounts of data may seem cumbersome at first, but, with the help of a practice-led CRM software, this can become an easy and systematic endeavour. A secure Document Management System (DMS) and Content Library will equip physicians and administrators with the tools to take well informed decisions and remain in-the-loop about any changes to important documentations. Also, users can attach notes, documents, images and URLs to any record, ensuring a holistic analysis of expectations and needs.

Empowering staff across departments and roles within a hospital with CRM software will ensure clearer pipeline visibility, targeted marketing campaigns, better collaborations, sentiment analysis, centralized repositories of solutions/ collaterals and other beneficial features.

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