Data-Driven CRM Strategies in Healthcare ft. Chris Dufresne, VP of Digital Products, Allina Health


CRM strategies are increasingly being adopted in the healthcare industry. By leveraging data-driven CRM strategies, healthcare organizations have an efficient way to better understand and engage with their patients. Gaining powerful insights into your patients’ behaviors, preferences, and needs results in a better understanding of your patient population and the ability to create more effective marketing campaigns.

Listen to Chris Dufresne, VP of Digital Products and Marketing Technology at Allina Health, and Alan Tam, Chief Marketing Officer at Actium Health, as they discuss adoption, misconceptions, pitfalls, and effectiveness of CRM technologies.

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Healthcare Internet Conference.

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Chris Dufresne

VP, Digital Products and Marketing Technology
Allina Health


Alan Tam

Chief Marketing Officer
Actium Health


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Chris Dufresne (00:00):
Now, we know in healthcare it’s not perfect data, because you might have some health information that you have from a historical place that you went that we don’t have access to. And so we need to be mindful of not having all the data, but making sure that we are using the data intelligently to be able to make sure those messages are most relevant to you.

Alan Tam (00:28):
Hello Healthcare. When it comes to driving consumer engagement and conversions, few industries do it better than retail and commerce. They seem to have cracked the code here. What can healthcare learn and borrow from this industry to further improve and drive their patient engagement, as well as patient outcomes? To explore this question, I have the pleasure of having Chris Dufresne, VP of Digital Products and Marketing Technologies at Allina Health. Welcome, Chris.

Chris Dufresne (00:54):
Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Alan Tam (00:56):
Excited to have you here. You have a very interesting background. You came from Target before Allina Health. And I’ve noticed that a lot of health systems today are actually recruiting from retail organizations for their leaders. What made you make the switch from retail to healthcare?

Chris Dufresne (01:14):
I had the fortune of being in retail through some pretty formative years. In the .com world, was with when they were still on Amazon’s platform. Which really I say that intentionally because it shows some of the disruption that was happening in healthcare at that time and now disruption that we’re seeing… I’m sorry, the disruption we saw in retail at that time and now the disruption that we’re seeing in healthcare. So I was looking for my next, career 2.0 if you will, and wanted an industry that was going through a lot of change. Because I really like helping lead teams from ambiguity into clarity, and healthcare was one of those industries. And so I’m posting, applied, went through multi-month process like many healthcare organizations and even non-healthcare, and landed at Allina Health leading an IT group. And then moved into a digital experience role that I’m currently in and have really enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot about healthcare and it’s been a lot of fun to try to apply some of the principles of retail in healthcare.

Alan Tam (02:16):
Awesome. So is it everything that you’ve expected so far? Have there been any key surprises?

Chris Dufresne (02:23):
Definitely not everything I expected, obviously. I would say what I’m surprised by is how little difference there is between healthcare and retail. Now, some will think that’s sacrilegious, right? I don’t mean that there’s no difference in the meaning of the work, right? Healthcare has a much deeper meaning, and that’s one of the things I really like about being in healthcare. Is driving transformation to make healthcare easier because it should be more accessible to people. And that’s what we can do in the healthcare world by re-looking at how we do things. So similarities. We have products and services, we have vendors. I mean, the core underpinnings are similar to any business, whether they’re for-profit or nonprofit. So that’s been something that’s been similar. Something that’s been a little bit different than I expected is, the degree of resistance to consumerism. Consumer’s kind of a four-letter word in some pockets of healthcare, and it seems sacrilegious to say consumer instead of patient.
So I always make sure to explain why the word consumer makes sense, especially when it’s a group of physicians, for example. And how I explain that is, a patient is the person in the bed, often conveys ill, sick. We, in healthcare want to keep people healthy.

Alan Tam (03:38):

Chris Dufresne (03:38):
And so we also need to think about not just the person in the bed or the person in the chair that we’re talking to…

Alan Tam (03:44):

Chris Dufresne (03:45):
But really the people that surround them, that provide care because many people have other people around them that are helping them through a tough healthcare situation. And that’s why we broaden it and zoom out to say the consumer, because the consumer isn’t always just that patient. It could be their adult child who’s helping care for them.

Alan Tam (04:04):
Absolutely. Again, I think retail has this very figured out. What are some of the tactics and strategies that you’ve learned that you think can be applied here in terms of better engaging the patients?

Chris Dufresne (04:19):
I think retail gives a really good illusion of having it figured out. Now are they more advanced in healthcare? Yes. They have a plethora of data that they’ve been using to understand the consumer more. Think about when the items that would be recommended for you first started coming up on Amazon or Target back in the day. At first, consumers are like, “That’s creepy.” Or, “They got that wrong.” But they refined that through the years. And I think healthcare can learn from retail in figuring out, how do you personalize an experience, but only to the extent that the consumer is ready. If that recommended items functionality had come out overnight, and was as precise as it often is today, it probably wouldn’t have landed well.
Similar to, if I start sending marketing messages as a healthcare organization to you about the risk of heart disease, and it’s because we know your father has heart disease.

Alan Tam (05:15):

Chris Dufresne (05:16):
That to you would be a little creepy, right? Now, of course, HIPAA and we of course take all of that into account, just using that as an example, that we got to make sure that we’re personalizing healthcare. But not so far that it becomes creepy or causes people to step back and say, “Wait a minute, how did you know that?”

Alan Tam (05:33):
Right. Right. That’s interesting because this is a question I ask a lot of healthcare leaders and healthcare marketers is, myself as healthcare consumer actually want that. Because you know me better than myself, as a patient. So if I’m at risk for something, I would want to know, “Alan, you’re at risk for diabetes, you’re at risk for X, Y, Z.” How do you walk that fine line as a healthcare marketer when you’re reaching out to patients like that?

Chris Dufresne (06:00):
Yeah, I think as I look forward, the way to do that is really understand what the consumer’s preference is. We’re not doing that yet, right? Which is why we’re careful in how we’re targeting. And we also don’t have the right technologies within Allina, for example. We’re building them to be able to do that type of targeting. And so, in my thinking is it really depends on what you as the consumer tell us. And if you want to understand some of the risk factors for you, we should be able to tell you those because as AI continues to grow, machine learning and all of those buzzwords we all hear about, we’ll know ever more about you. And we owe it to you to share that with you, especially if you want it, right? There might be some people who prefer ignorance is bliss, they don’t want to worry about it, so just don’t tell me.

Alan Tam (06:49):
Right. Right.

Chris Dufresne (06:50):
But that should really be between you and your doctor, or you and your medical information, for you to be able to make that decision.

Alan Tam (06:56):
Right. That makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. So given your role now, what’s kind of your top initiative? And why is it your top initiative?

Chris Dufresne (07:06):
We’re implementing this revolutionary technology called CRM. And I say that sarcastically. In healthcare though it is still relatively new. There might have been CRMs in place, especially on the payer side to track like sales activity and leads, etc. But healthcare really hasn’t used it as much as you would think. And so we’re actually implementing CRM right now. We finished with our first initial phase, and that’s allowing us to actually reach out to our patients in ways that we weren’t able to do effectively before. Where we can pinpoint the, what’s the right time to send this, in their journey. For example, it’s as basic as, if you came to urgent care and you don’t have a primary care physician noted. How do we help you identify a primary care physician, in case that’s right for you?

Alan Tam (07:54):

Chris Dufresne (07:54):
And so we’re doing some of those, you know what I’d call simple things to start with to learn, and then we’ll continue to become more complex over time, and use standard marketing automation that other industries use. But use it to drive really good behavior in healthcare. Especially as we go into our population health journey of, how do we get reimbursed for keeping people healthy rather than rewarded when people are sick, as a healthcare industry.

Alan Tam (08:19):
Right. Right. You know, a CRM is definitely a three-letter word within healthcare. And I see a lot of organizations struggle, especially in healthcare with their CRM implementations in their strategy. What’s been the biggest challenge and misconceptions that you’ve experienced so far, putting that in place?

Chris Dufresne (08:38):
One of the items we have to be really careful with, with CRM is helping with that perception that it could be a shadow EMR. But at the same time, making sure that we really focus on the data. And making sure that the data that’s coming in is as good as possible. Now, we know in healthcare it’s not perfect data, right? Because you might have some health information that you have from a historical place that you went that we don’t have access to. And so we need to be mindful of not having all the data, but making sure that we are using the data intelligently to be able to make sure those messages are most relevant to you. I mean, here’s an example that’s challenging but important, as they were advocating for people to come in for mammograms. We need to use the data to understand if you’ve had a double mastectomy, for example, right?

Alan Tam (09:25):
Oh yeah.

Chris Dufresne (09:26):
How terrible to reach out to somebody in that situation when we should have that data, especially if it’s performed within your health system. So data has been one of the things that we’re really focusing on. Helping people understand that we’re not in building a shadow EMR, like clinical data continues to live in the EMR. And then helping people understand some of the power that CRM can bring you. And I say that like modern day CRM, not the CRM that you might have implemented 10, 15 years ago. There’s a lot more to it now, and the marketing automation that can be driven from it, is a powerful tool and something that can really help healthcare organizations as they venture into population health.

Alan Tam (10:05):
All right. So for CRM, it’s interesting that you mention not the CRM from yester year, but how has CRM evolved? And what are some of the latest things that folks should be looking at for CRM technologies?

Chris Dufresne (10:19):
I’ll admit, I’m still relatively new in the CRM space too. So there’s plenty of experts out there. We’ve been fortunate to be working with a consultant who came in whose implemented CRM in many places, and an implementation partner who’s been amazing to work with. What I would say is, what seems different now than before is, it really should be data-driven ever more than before. So whether it’s CRM or CDP or whatever the buzz phrase is of the day, how do you use data to derive interactions? CRM of yester year I think was more about tracking leads and just understanding kind of operational information in-house. I think that really needs to be used, not only for operations and efficiencies and driving sales, for example, and growth in-house, but also to make the experience more relevant for the consumer.

Alan Tam (11:06):
I think Allina Health has definitely hired the right person for the job here. In the case of you.

Chris Dufresne (11:11):
I’ve got a strong team. Don’t give me much credit.

Alan Tam (11:14):
But I think one of the fallacies with CRM in many cases with health systems that I’ve seen, is that typically people see CRM as a noun and not a verb, and you seem to understand that it is a verb and it’s not a noun. I’ve seen so many health systems kind of, “Oh, we have a CRM strategy, we get a CRM in place, check box, we’re done.” Which kind of leads me to my next question of, how do you measure the ROI and effectiveness of a CRM implementation?

Chris Dufresne (11:42):
We’ve been really focused on the efficiencies it can bring and the capability it enables when we can communicate with our patients, in ways that were really difficult, or we just didn’t do in the past. Email’s a powerful tool still. SMS, right? I mean push notifications in our mobile app. Those are the types of things we’re looking to do. The push notifications a little more effort, we’re getting there over time. But I would say, really looking at ease of launching a campaign. And then of course campaign metrics. So we can understand a lot more about email deliverability now than we could with our previous technology stack. And understand we have an opportunity to recollect email addresses because a very large percent of them are invalid now, because we collected them maybe 10 years ago. So we are really learning more about how to make sure that that data is clean.

Alan Tam (12:35):

Chris Dufresne (12:37):
And we also are making sure that the messages that we send, if we get any feedback through our contact center, social media, etc. And just understanding and making sure that we’re listening to our customer to make sure that we’re getting it right. Other standard campaign metrics would be conversion rate. It’s another one that can be challenging, because you want to balance data privacy with your ability to track marketing campaigns from social media into your facility. And so we’re still working to figure out how might we do that in ways that help us understand the effectiveness of our campaigns.

Alan Tam (13:11):
Right. Yeah. I think lot of the metrics we share make a ton of sense to me as a marketer, but when you have to present to your leadership team or to your finance partner, what are some of the metrics that you use there? Because open rates, deliverability, they may not care. What’s the right KPI? What’s the right metric, in that case?

Chris Dufresne (13:32):
I think it’s being able to talk about how many people we’ve been able to perform outreach to, and the behavior that it drives. So how many people ended up scheduling the mammogram, for example. And that highlights how 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 right now. So I think showing how much we’re able to outreach, and how targeted we can be. What information we can glean after we send something, for example. And then talking about the efficiencies, and the amount of analytics that we can do to understand, are we doing the right things? And are we providing our patient slash consumer with the right information at the right time?

Alan Tam (14:16):
So are you guys there yet in terms of attribution, still working on it?

Chris Dufresne (14:19):
Still working on it. Working with our marketing partners and analytics partners to figure that out. And other healthcare organizations too, because we know we’re not the only ones doing this, by any means. And we know that we can learn from others. And again, going back to the retail and commerce discussion earlier, we can learn a lot from the other industries too of how they do it.

Alan Tam (14:42):
Absolutely. What about channel effectiveness? You talked about email, you talked about push, you talked about SMS. I’m assuming there’s voice in there as well. What have you found to be most effective for the patients that you serve, in terms of channel effectiveness?

Chris Dufresne (15:00):
I’ll admit we’re still pretty immature in this space. So for me, it’s more anecdotal. I don’t have hard numbers, but I would say we didn’t use email very much at all, or SMS.

Alan Tam (15:10):

Chris Dufresne (15:11):
A lot of it was based on when you came into an appointment, the physician might talk to you about, “You should get this screening or that.” Or when you made a phone call to us, the contact center agent may have recommended that you also schedule a lab test or something, right? And so with CRM now, we have many other ways of communicating.
So the first thing we did, which is also not revolutionary, especially in other industries, is asking the consumers, “How do you want to be communicated with? Can we text you? Can we email you?” Right? Of course, we can email you traditional healthcare things like, your lab results are in. Those sorts of things. But marketing messages are a little bit different. And even as we go into population health, of course it’s about their health, so that helps. But really making sure that we’re communicating in the way that the patient wants, and not just the way that we think. So my hypothesis is, we’ll find SMS of course is valuable for urgent, necessary information, email for less urgent. And then there’s folks who aren’t digitally enabled, and that’s okay too. So there’s always going to be a place for the phone and that human touch that’s needed, rather than just relying on the digital touch.

Alan Tam (16:23):
Awesome. In terms of capturing those consumer preferences, how’s that piece going? Are consumers today very amicable to those preferences? Are they resistant? Are you getting feedback? What’s that process been like?

Chris Dufresne (16:37):
We’ve seen that many people are opting in to receive more modern messages because we’ve heard from them in the past of, “Why am I getting a text message from my hairdresser, but not from you about having a screening?” Right?

Alan Tam (16:51):
Right. Yeah.

Chris Dufresne (16:51):
Why? Help me understand. And so there’s openness to it because of the trust that’s there. And I do believe there’s still a trust between consumers and their healthcare provider. I’m not naive to think that consumers are choosing convenience care as well, which is why we’ve continued to build up our urgent care part of our organization. And other ways of making sure that there’s convenient options for our consumers. And so they’ve been pretty open to it because of the trust we have. And we need to keep that trust, which is where we need to make sure we’re not communicating too often. And we need to make sure that we’re honoring their preferences too.

Alan Tam (17:27):
Absolutely. I think that’s definitely one of the key things to build up loyalty and trust there. Obviously, you guys are on the forefront in terms of being able to implement CRM and have it in, at least completed in stage one. But I’ve had the luxury of talking to many other health systems that don’t even have a CRM in place today. So if you were talking to your peers at other systems who were thinking about implementing CRM, what sort of advice would you give them? And where would you recommend they start? What are some of those best practices?

Chris Dufresne (18:03):
We were fortunate that our board had a number of folks on it who were from the hospitality and retail sectors. And they still are part of it. That really helped open the doors to the conversation about, why a CRM. And how a CRM is different than your EHR, EMR. So I would say first is just understanding where is that understanding at the executive and even board level. And leverage that if it’s there. If it’s not there, find ways to educate. And my biggest advice is start somewhere. We didn’t start with a gigantic implementation of marketing and contact center and philanthropy, and… We started with marketing. So we can show the power of the tool and the power of using 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, upfront, 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, ultimately. For us, it’s population health while also navigating the fee-for-service landscape. And that really helped us sell this, if you will, to the broader executive team and also others on the board who may not have come from industries where CRM is table stakes.

Alan Tam (19:42):
All right. What are some of the pitfalls that folks should look out for?

Chris Dufresne (19:46):
Data. Data. Data. Data quality, I’ve seen it too many times in ERP implementations I’ve done outside of CRM. You have to make sure that you have as good a data as possible and that you have processes in place to govern it, and correct it at the source when you find that it’s incorrect. The other I would say is privacy and security. Making sure that you’re securing the data. Health data is really personal and we need to continue to treat it that way as an industry and make sure that we’re honoring that, really the patient owns their data. And how are we stewards of that data so that we can help the patient by leveraging it. So data, extremely important. Gaining continued support around your organization and proving it, not only with results, but actually demonstrating, “Here’s how this works.” We can actually see that our emails are getting to the intended recipients. That proof is in the pudding, as we’ve heard through the years.

Alan Tam (20:43):
Right. So today, when you’re trying to make that full attribution loop in terms of here’s the outreach to the patient, the patient responded, engaged, they made an appointment. Is that process manual today for you guys? Or are you using some underlying technology to manage that?

Chris Dufresne (20:59):
It is still a maturity we’re working to build, right? So I would say we have a line of sight to how we think we can do it, but balancing that, how do we make sure that we might know that they booked an appointment. And we don’t want to store the data, like the detailed data of what specific appointment or doctor, etc. Of course, that’s in the EHR…

Alan Tam (21:20):

Chris Dufresne (21:21):
But in the marketing system, we don’t want all of that. So figuring out how do we make that tie without bringing unnecessary clinical information into the CRM. So that’s something that we’re still learning.

Alan Tam (21:32):
Okay, great. So that’s one of the key next things for you. What else? I mean, what’s kind of next on your radar for better healthcare consumer engagement?

Chris Dufresne (21:44):
CRM is one piece. We’ve spent a good amount of time talking about CRM today, but it’s also about connecting the physical, digital, and telephone experiences. How do you move from virtual care to in-person care? For example, you’re having a virtual visit with your provider and it’s determined you need to have a throat culture for strep. Well, how do you easily come in, have the throat culture done and leave, and then get the results, and then easily get the prescription if you need one?

Alan Tam (22:10):

Chris Dufresne (22:10):
How do we connect the dots across all of that? How do we use technology to help guide you through a complicated situation? It could be cancer and from potential cancer, to diagnosis, to treatment? How do we guide you through that, not only with your oncologist, for example, both the other doctors that you have? And how do we provide you with what you’re expecting digitally, while augmenting that of course, with the in-person experience, which is going to be super important in that instance. 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 when that day comes? That benefits you because then you’re more educated, it can help with some of that anxiety that you feel before coming in. And organizationally, it helps by making sure that surgeries happen as planned. And don’t have to be rescheduled due to improper prep.

Alan Tam (23:04):
Right. That’s really interesting, especially connecting the physical and virtual. To me, that’s something that’s super advanced, where you’re talking about much more of a hybrid world. Why are these two kind of at the forefront versus say, the next stage of CRM? Seems like you guys are, like you said, still starting off there and then now it’s a bigger leap, I think to bridge the virtual and physical world.

Chris Dufresne (23:29):
I think for us, it’s been, what is the consumer need and the business need, and then what’s the right tool to help with that.

Alan Tam (23:35):

Chris Dufresne (23:36):
Now, and in the future, it might be that CRM is a tool that can do that three, four years from now. Of course, it probably could do it now, with the right investment, time and energy. But if there’s other off-the-shelf tools that can do this and we can integrate them seamlessly into the experience, why not get value earlier? And so that’s why we’ve chosen other solutions to help get that value, now. In the digital space, you can always say, “Well, maybe we should wait two years?” But then in two years you’re going to say the same thing, right?

Alan Tam (24:04):

Chris Dufresne (24:05):
You have to accept that there’s going to be a rework in an industry that is moving so quickly and especially in the technology space. So just understanding where you know there’s risk of rework in the future, but you’re doing it now to get the value from it now. And to learn from your experiences to then apply those in the future with whatever that next technology might be.

Alan Tam (24:25):
All right. Absolutely. Chris, I really enjoyed our conversation in learning more about what you’re doing and kind of the expertise and insights that you’re bringing to Allina. I’m sure that many of us that are listening to this podcast and watching this, we’d like to learn more and carry on with the conversation. What’s the best way for folks to kind of get in touch with you to continue the conversation? Or perhaps just to pick your brain to learn a little bit more?

Chris Dufresne (24:52):
I’d say send a LinkedIn message. That’s going to be the easiest, so feel free to look me up on LinkedIn. There aren’t too many Chris Dufresne’s.

Alan Tam (24:59):
Wonderful. And just from perspective so people can make sure they find the right Chris Dufresne, your last name is spelled how?

Chris Dufresne (25:08):

Alan Tam (25:11):
Wonderful. Again, Chris, thank you so much for joining us today on Hello Healthcare. Really appreciate it. And to all of you in the audience, thank you so much for listening. Until next time, hello.

Speaker 3 (25:25):
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