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Healthcare CRM: Evolving Beyond Your Legacy Platform

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Over the past fifteen years I’ve spent thousands of hours helping healthcare organizations adopt and get the most out of their CRMs. These efforts have changed significantly as the market has evolved. Part of my job has been to change the mindsets of those that had been doing it one way for decades.  The highly regulated nature of healthcare means that marketing technology will always lag behind other industries, and in those early days of CRM, seasoned hospital executives were especially wary of solutions that used patient data.

As this space matured, unique HIPAA-friendly solutions evolved that were specific to the challenges faced in healthcare. These unique solutions created a definition of data-driven CRM marketing for hospitals that looked quite different from CRM in other verticals.

CRM as Decision-Engine: Making Data Actionable

The promise of these systems was two-fold. Consolidating data sources about your patients has obvious value, but in health care all that information in one place means nothing if it isn’t actionable.  Actionable data translates easily to planning and executing marketing activities.  In healthcare these goals can be as diverse as:  patient acquisition, reengaging lapsed patients, redirecting inappropriate ER users, or growing specific surgical procedures for a new facility.

The secret sauce was in providing a decision engine that turned goals into identified individuals at the moment when they needed to hear your message.

In the worlds of retail and finance CRM, demographics and purchasing history can tell us a lot about what a consumer will buy next and when and where they might be looking.  This works great for buying shoes online or even a new car.  The complexity of healthcare means that these decisions are much harder to influence as they are tied to the consumer’s health history. The CRM as a decision engine could identify and target individuals most likely in need of services such as:

  • A primary care provider
  • Cardiovascular specialist
  • Joint replacement surgery
  • Likelihood of developing type II diabetes
  • Overdue for a mammogram


Hard Lessons on Transparency

One of the most important lessons for CRM users was that ROI came from campaign activity. The act of building one of these legacy databases wouldn’t justify the costs by itself.  You need to be leveraging those unique tools to build the most effective campaigns:

  • Using encounter data and risk models to identify an opportunity
  • Making creative decisions based on third-party demographics and psychographic models
  • Building out custom content to fit specific audience niches
  • Tracking response using a system that could tell you if you were bringing in the desired procedures and if their insurance companies were reimbursing well

Often the hardest part was telling a marketing leader that we would now be tracking the success of their campaigns at a level of granularity that no one previously thought was possible. To a few, that level of transparency was too much, and they never embraced it for fear of failure.  This usually meant they eventually got rid of the platform (or they found a less stressful job). But those who thrived recognized that they would never have a seat at the planning table without ironclad data to prove their worth. To them, CRM data meant power.


Fast-Forward to Today

As part of the ongoing consumerization of Healthcare, it’s now extremely common for hospitals to recruit leaders from outside of the industry.  These new leaders don’t define CRM as narrowly as has been the case in Healthcare. They are able to adopt strategies and tactics that have been successfully driving other verticals for years.  These leaders see the need for a robust, customizable platform that meets the needs of the entire organization (not just marketing).  As a result, we now see a pervasive movement in healthcare to take CRM enterprise-wide.

The challenge to every one of these organizations is understanding the differences between the legacy healthcare CRM they’ve been using for years, and the enterprise platform they plan on building:

  • The legacy systems of the past weren’t designed to be that single source of truth powering clinical and operational activities. They were designed for patient acquisition and engagement.
  • Enterprise platforms were not originally designed to tell you who you need to target to grow a specific procedure, let alone the precise moment they need to hear from you.

Nonetheless, I see over and over the intention of moving from legacy to enterprise platforms while retaining that “decision-engine” functionality.


What is Needed Now: Minding the Gap

In speaking with many health care organizations that are already beginning this journey or planning to do so, I keep hearing the phrase “we don’t know what we don’t know.”  As health systems look to build out the roles and capabilities to create a hybrid solution that can serve the entire organization and retain those health-care specific capabilities, they are looking for a partner that can help bridge that knowledge gap.
Simply put, they are looking for a partner that knows what they don’t know.

If you are exploring this situation now or realizing that the gap is bigger than anticipated, I’d love to hear from you.  What challenges are you facing?  Have you found great solutions you can share?


In future posts I will cover some of the areas you need to think about to Mind the Gap as you explore transitioning to enterprise CRM:

  • Defining the key components of a legacy CRM and why you still need them (or don’t)
  • I will discuss the concept of CRM Maturity and how to assess where your organization falls in that spectrum
  • Using Healthcare Event Triggers to launch patient journeys
  • Define some of the new roles and skillsets necessary to evolve beyond legacy healthcare CRM
  • Discuss how healthcare is creating more new data than ever before and how we can make it actionable
  • What is a CDP?  And is it the answer for your Enterprise’s Data Challenges?

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Chris Restle, Senior Solutions Architect

Chris Restle has been one of the early pioneers in Healthcare CRM, working for the past 15 years as Principal CRM Strategy, Director of Strategic Innovation, and most recently was the Vice President Emerging Markets for Healthgrades. In his career, he has run client services, analytics, and data intake teams. He brings Perficient clients an exhaustive knowledge of the healthcare CRM market, campaign strategy, event-trigger design, and predictive modeling for planning and targeting.

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