Want to Be a High-Value Provider? Deepen Your Patient Relationships

The healthcare industry is investing heavily in technology for patient engagement. Much of that money has gone to customer relationship management systems, or CRMs, for health systems, hospitals, health plans and pharmaceutical companies, which use them to keep track of relationships with patients, customers, physicians, vendors, and colleagues.

Physician practices are just beginning to investigate their use to track patient details that aren’t necessarily part of the clinical record and to manage relationships with other physicians, hospitals, nursing homes and ancillary providers.

A doctor visits with a child patient and his caregiver

If you’d like to know more about how these systems work, there is an excellent on-demand webinar on patient engagement by Dell Services and Everest Group that looks at a variety of patient engagement tools, including CRM. It’s a good place to start if you want to know more about what’s available, what your peers are doing in this area and what the challenges are.

But back to CRMs in physician practices. I’m a technology guy, not a physician, but our chief medical officer, Dr. Nick van Terheyden, tells me that much of the patient information that CRMs can track and organize has clinical value and that data probably should be a part of the medical record. Since most electronic health records don’t have a good way of integrating details about a patient’s attitudes, lifestyle, education or socio-economic characteristics, a CRM is useful for capturing and sharing these details.

So why is this info important? According to Dr. Nick, knowing your patients intimately has two major benefits: first, it helps you understand how they will respond to various healthcare treatments or situations; and secondly, your knowledge of them makes them feel more trusting and secure, and more willing to engage with you in their care. For caregivers, that means patients are more willing to ask questions if they don’t understand something, to engage in shared decision making, and to tell even the embarrassing details that you need to know.

On the other hand, if you make them feel more like a diagnosis than a person (i.e., the diabetic in exam room 2, not Mr. Smith who has a wicked sense of humor and is trying to exercise more), they won’t share the difficult details that can be critical to a good outcome.

So knowing your patient well, and remembering the details about the patient, says Dr. Nick, are very important to good outcomes. CRM systems can help with that, though the technology alone isn’t the answer. A CRM system is only helpful when it is used within a comprehensive patient engagement approach.

Proof that patient engagement matters

As I noted above, I’m a tech guy and I’m also a business guy, and I want to see proof that something works before I invest in it. So let me share with you a study that goes a long way toward convincing me that patient engagement matters. The Peterson Center on Healthcare and Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center did a study on high-value primary care providers.  The researchers defined “high value” as providing exceptional quality of care at lower-than-average total cost (including drugs, emergency room visits, lab testing and other services, not just physician billings). These practices are among the best in the country at achieving healthcare’s triple aim: better outcomes, better patient experience, and lower cost.

One of the characteristics that set these practices apart from others was that their patient relationships were deeper. While they share other characteristics, many of the behaviors noted by the researchers related to how well they engage with their patients.

To my mind, that says patient engagement — and having a rich relationship with your patients — is important in achieving high-value care. If you have a small, intimate practice with employees who have been with you for a long time and know your patients well, you may not need a CRM to help you do this. But if your practice is like most, with frequent turnover among staff and patients, a CRM may help you deepen your patient relationships. And a CRM can help ensure that the knowledge you have about a patient is transferred with a referral to another physician or ancillary care provider.

Beyond primary care

While CRMs are new to primary care, they have already proven their value to health systems, hospitals, health plans and pharmaceutical companies, which use them to track patient data, relationships with other physicians, vendors, customers, and colleagues.

For example, we worked with a large health plan to replace an old CRM with a new system that allowed easier and better tracking of details. For the staff working in the customer contact center, the CRM gives a 360-degree view of each member. When a member contacts the center, the representative who responds has instant access to the entire member history. They can see all previous interactions and what steps have been taken. According to the health plan, it is improving member satisfaction, cutting costs and making collaboration between teams easier.

CRMs are just one tool in the patient engagement effort

While CRMs are proving their worth in healthcare, they are just one tool for improving patient engagement. Other technologies are also useful. But what is most important is viewing patients as individuals and treating every individual with respect. I’m encouraged to see that healthcare organizations are becoming increasingly patient-centered. We intend to do all we can to facilitate that work, and the webinar we offer on patient engagement is one way we can help.

Follow the link to listen to the on-demand webinar, “Patient Engagement: Strategies for improving outcomes and experience while lowering costs.

If you’d like to know more about CRMs and how to use them well, join us for the free live webinar “Know your patients: CRM Best Practices for Providers” August 9th from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. CT. 

About the Author: Dan Allison