CRM Adoption in Healthcare: Tips and Tricks


Q&A with Chris Dufresne
VP of Digital Products and Marketing Technology
Allina Health

The adoption of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in healthcare is becoming increasingly popular. From patient databases to appointment reminders to data analytics, these technologies offer immense potential for healthcare practices to streamline their processes, reduce costs, and increase patient engagement. Despite the potential of CRM technologies, there are still many misconceptions and pitfalls associated with their adoption. 

This Q&A article with Chris Dufresne, VP of Digital Products and Marketing Technology from Allina Health, is derived from a Hello Healthcare podcast interview. The discussion explores the misconceptions, pitfalls, and effectiveness of CRM technologies in healthcare, providing insight into how healthcare providers can leverage these tools to get the most out of them. By better understanding the benefits and challenges of implementing CRM technologies, healthcare providers can ensure that they are making the best decisions for their patients and their practice.

Is working in healthcare everything that you've expected so far? Have there been any key surprises?

I was taken aback by the similarities between healthcare and retail. I'm not suggesting that the significance of the work is the same; healthcare is more meaningful, and that's one of the things I like most about my role - making healthcare more accessible for everyone. Something that wasn't expected is the resistance to embrace consumerism. The idea of using ‘consumer’ is seen as obscene in some parts of healthcare, and the term patient is preferred.

What are some of the tactics and strategies you've learned that can be applied to better engage patients?

Retailers have a plethora of data that allows them to get to know their customers better, and this has allowed them to offer tailored experiences that weren't possible before. For instance, Amazon and Target have greatly improved the accuracy of their recommended items over the years. In healthcare, however, we need to be mindful of how we tailor experiences for the consumer, since they may not be ready for it yet. Going forward, it's important to understand the consumer's preferences and to share useful information with them. As AI technology develops, we need to make sure to pass on any insights we gain to the consumer.

Given your role, what's your top initiative and why?

We're implementing this revolutionary technology called CRM. And I say that sarcastically. It's not been utilized as much in the healthcare industry compared to other industries. We've just completed our first phase that lets us interact with our patients in ways we couldn't before. We can now figure out the right time to send info to them. For instance, if someone came in for urgent care and didn't have a primary care provider, how do we help them find the right one? We'll keep improving our system over time and use other technologies to drive patient engagement. Especially as we move into population health and are rewarded for keeping people healthy instead of when they're unwell.

crm adoption healthcare

A lot of organizations struggle with their CRM adoption and strategy. What are the biggest challenges and misconceptions you've experienced?

It is important to know that we are not establishing another Electronic Medical Record (EMR), and the clinical information will still stay in the EMR. At the same time, we need to make sure that we are concentrating on the incoming data and its accuracy. We understand that data is not always precise, and we don’t have access to historical data from another provider, for example. Consequently, we must be cautious when dealing with data and use it in an intelligent way so that the messages are most relevant for the person. For instance, when we are trying to bring people in for mammograms, we must recognize if someone has had a double mastectomy. It would be terrible to communicate with somebody in such a case when we know that they have had that surgery. Hence, data is one of the aspects that we are focusing on while helping people to understand that CRM is a strong tool that can help healthcare organizations progress in other areas such as population health.

How do you measure the ROI and effectiveness of a CRM implementation?

crm adoption tips

We have been focusing on the efficiencies it presents and the ability to keep in touch with our patients in manners that were difficult, or that we didn't do in the past. In addition to the ease of launching a campaign and measuring its effectiveness. We can understand a lot more about email deliverability now than we could with our previous technology stack.

We are ensuring that the messages we convey, if we get any input through our contact center, social media, and so on, that we're getting it right. It can be challenging to balance data privacy with the ability to track external campaigns, such as social media, into the facility. So, we're still figuring out how to do that to further help us understand the effectiveness of our campaigns.

When you present to your leadership or finance team, what metrics do you use?

How many people we have been able to perform outreach to, and the behavior that it drives. For example, how many people ended up scheduling a mammogram. That highlights how adopting CRM helps enable our population health goals. It also helps in a fee-for-service world, knowing that we live in both spaces in the healthcare industry. It’s a combination of showing outreach metrics, how targeted we can be, and campaign results.

Tell me about channel effectiveness?

We started by asking our customers- "What method of communication would you prefer? Could we reach out to you via text or email?" Of course, we can send emails concerning traditional healthcare matters like informing you that your laboratory results are available. However, when it comes to marketing content, we want to make sure we're tailoring our communication to the patient's needs rather than assuming what they want.

crm adoption effectiveness

We value the trust between consumers and healthcare providers. We know consumers are choosing convenience care, which is why we have expanded access to urgent care and other services. People have been receptive to this due to the trust they have in us, and we need to maintain their confidence by not overdoing communication and always paying attention to their preferences.

What advice would you give your peers that are looking to implement CRM? Where should they start?

We were fortunate that our board included several folks from the hospitality and retail sectors. That helped open the doors to the conversation about why CRM adoption in healthcare is essential. So, first understand the executive and board level sentiment for CRM. If it's not there, start educating them. My biggest advice is to start somewhere. We started with marketing. We plan to show the power of the tool, use data to personalize communication, and target the right people. From there, we can start to show how CRM can be beneficial in connecting dots across channels. From digital into in-person or the telephone, etc.

Those are the things that we're really looking forward to being able to do, and so my advice to others is just start somewhere. Prove the value over time. It's still an investment of course, but it's a much smaller investment than an enterprise implementation. Focus on an area where you can show the value and tie it to the organizational priorities and mission. For us, it's population health while also navigating the fee-for-service landscape. That really helped us sell this to the broader executive team.

What are some of the pitfalls for CRM adoption in healthcare?

Data. Data. Data. Data quality, I've seen it too many times in ERP implementations. You must make sure that you have as good of data as possible with processes in place to govern it. The other I would say is privacy and security. Make sure that you're securing the data. Health data is personal, and we need to make sure that we're honoring that the patient owns their data. Also, gain continued CRM support by proving the value, not only with results, but by actually demonstrating, "Here's how this works."

crm data

What's next on your radar for better healthcare consumer engagement?

It's also about connecting the physical, digital, and telephone experiences. How do you move from virtual care to in-person care? For example, if you have a virtual visit with your provider, and it's determined you need to have a throat culture for strep. How do you easily come in, have the throat culture done, leave, get the results, and then easily get a prescription if you need one?

Another example would be, preparing for a surgery. How do we get you the right information at the right time and the way you want to receive it to make sure that you're ready for the procedure? The more patients are educated, the more we can help alleviate anxiety before a procedure. It helps make sure that surgeries happen as planned and don't have to be rescheduled due to improper prep.

Any final thoughts?

In conclusion, CRM helps to improve patient engagement with the care team and to engage in meaningful conversations with their patients. Moreover, implementing CRM helps healthcare organizations drive visibility into their business, track key business metrics, and increase revenue and profitability.

To maximize the potential benefits of adopting a CRM, start by creating a strategic vision for the organization’s end-to-end customer experience. From there, you should set measurable goals, map out the implementation, and then execute on it. Finally, you should measure the impact of your implementation and course correct as necessary. Listen to the full Hello Healthcare podcast interview with Chris Dufresne on your preferred streaming platform or watch the full video interview below.

About Chris Dufresne

Chris Dufresne is the VP of Digital Products and Marketing Technology at Allina Health, focusing on custom website, API and mobile app development. Dufresne's background includes ecommerce, data management, and business intelligence roles at organizations such as Target Corporation, Macy’s, and Marshall Field’s. Dufresne focuses on how to simplify the healthcare experience using digital tools that are connected to the entire consumer experience. Connect with Chris Dufresne on LinkedIn.