RealTime IT News

Panel: Healthcare CRM Has Unique Demands

Online customer relation management (CRM) is a lucrative business. According to Abderdeen, a provider of technology market consulting and research, spending on CRM software applications is expected to increase by 300 percent over a four-year period.

"In 1999, $4 billion was spent on CRM software applications during," stated Harry Watkins, senior analyst. "That figure is expected to grow to $12 billion by 2003."

However, Watkins noted, CRM tools for the healthcare industry are unique. "Most CRM software applications generally address a specific problem, such as sales force automation or call center techniques," he said. "There are special challenges in managing customer relationships in a healthcare setting."

Part of the complicity, is the vast number of elements involved in healthcare. The healthcare field includes, patients and doctors, pharmaceutical companies and druggists, hospitals and insurance providers.

"The Internet has narrowed the service gap for most companies, but has created pressure for the healthcare industry, according to Rich Carroll, vice president, health technology solutions, at Seranova, an ebusiness consulting service. "People over 65 are fastest growing users of the Internet as well as the biggest users of the healthcare system. Everyone involved in the system needs to reinvent themselves."

It comes down to understanding the needs of the constituents a Web site aims to serve, noted George Laszlo, life sciences solutions director, Computer Sciences Corp., a consulting and information technology services firms.

"If you are going to be a provider of a service, you have to understand your service," he said. "For instance, if you are a provider to physicians you want to be concerned with the practice, methodology, outcomes and financial standing. The challenge is the understand their needs and provide them with the tools they need."

There is a great complexity to resolving the issues, observed Amir Kishon, CEO of Softwatch, a provider of e-CRM solutions for the healthcare arena. "If you look at the healthcare industry in an abstract way, you have a lot of dots that you need to connect." he said. "For sure, you need a global communication system between the patient, physician and the insurance provider. Once that triangle is connected, you will establish relationship that was not there before.

"Physicians can be in touch with pharmacies and insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies can be in touch with the patient," he said. "Additionally, patients and their families will be able to gain support from others with similar experiences. This is something that has never been done before and will revolutionize the healthcare system as we know it. "

"Consumers are coming to expect much more personalized and interactive Web sites that are responsive to their needs and requirements," noted Watkins. "As a result, pace-setting health organizations are adopting the principles of one-to-one relationship management into their initiatives.

"The best Web initiatives will also serve to create virtual communities and/or provide secure one-to-one consultations to enable consumers, patients and physicians to share experiences, exchange pointers and find an emotional or professional support network -- which can be a powerful experience particularly for users contending with chronic, uncommon or socially isolating diseases," he said.

"These Web-assisted relationship- and community-building methods relationships take e-CRM to another level when it comes to healthcare, creating a foundation for an altogether different approach better known as e-healthcare relationship management, or eHRM."

Watkins, Laszlo, Carroll and Amir were participants in a panel discussion held Thursday, entitled "Going Vertical: Best Practices in Implementing e-Health Customer Relationship Management." The event was organized by