Building Patient Loyalty

Health care CRM must address patients', hospitals' and insurers' needs.

We don't do CRM in the classic sense," explains John Zimmer, vice president of marketing at Toshiba America Medical Systems. Although the company's customer management system began as a sales force automation project, "we have moved well beyond what people mean by CRM," he says.

Toshiba America, which deals in diagnostic imaging systems for health care providers, uses a custom-built application based on Cognos Inc.'s business intelligence software to track a wide range of factors such as customer satisfaction indices, changes in perception about its products and long-term customer-retention data.

Zimmer's style of CRM may be unique, but the challenges he faces are not uncommon in health care: There is no standard way of doing CRM and no clear leader among the vendors.

Hospitals have been slow to adopt CRM, but experts say the need to contain costs, build loyalty among patients and provide better service has spurred hospitals to look at various aspects of CRM, including call center support and self-service functions.

But the health care industry operates under a heavy dosage of government and industry regulation, and CRM software is often customized to support those requirements, plus reimbursement processes and call centers. And the need to ensure patient privacy means that many of the data-sharing functions of CRM aren't acceptable.

Joanne Galimi, an analyst at Gartner Inc., says neither payer organizations nor health care providers have advanced far down the CRM path; both favor tactical, point solutions. For instance, Galimi says she sees organizations trying to automate sales cycles or improve customer service and support -- especially through implementing Web-based customer self-service.

So while the large players still share a big part of the market, niche players are having a field day, Galimi says. "The payers, for example, tend to think the bigger software players are pricey. But that will change as these organizations mature and begin to reconsider the benefits of more of a suite-based approach to CRM," she says.

Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass. Contact him at

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CRM Goes Vertical

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