Epic Sets Sights on Healthcare Consumerism with CRM Platform Launch

A CRM platform built with healthcare in mind will help Epic customers meet the demands of both healthcare consumerism and population health improvement.

Think of a marketing campaign, but it’s rich with thousands of patient data points from the EHR to help tailor patient outreach and meet the moment on healthcare consumerism. That’s the pitch from Epic Systems with its newly launched CRM platform, Cheers.

CRM software, shorthand for customer relationship management, isn’t a new technology. The software has been around since the late 1990s and has helped many in the customer service sector help build and maintain brand loyalty.

With the rise in healthcare consumerism, those goals have extended to medical providers who want to close care gaps and improve outcomes—plus build a sense of patient loyalty.

“This has really been an evolution over the past few years, even before the pandemic,” Sam Seering, a product manager on Epic’s Cheers, told PatientEngagementHIT. “Today, consumers aren't really comparing one health system to another. They're now comparing their healthcare experience to their experience at Amazon or with Delta or with Marriott. And so, health systems and healthcare providers have started to look at different platforms and capabilities in order to provide that great consumer experience.”

Seering said Epic systems developed Cheers because there was a significant need in healthcare to help patients navigate their healthcare needs and journeys in a way that is familiar, convenient, and in most cases, tech-driven. Patients are used to Amazon guiding them through their shopping needs, and they want something similar to manage their healthcare interactions, Seering indicated.

On the provider side, CRM platforms help manage what can often be a complicated web of patient health interactions, ranging from preventive screenings to follow-up care. That’s important in the evolving world of value-based care, where ensuring long-term well-being is paramount to clinical quality performance.

Take, for example, the collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing data from Epic’s research database, Cosmos, Seering said there was a pretty significant drop in cancer screenings during the first months of the pandemic. In March and April of 2020 alone, cancer screenings dropped a whopping 80 percent, separate data from the American Cancer Society found.

That delayed care and missed screenings resulted in poorer cancer care outcomes, with oncology experts saying they are starting to see more late-stage cancer diagnoses.

Healthcare organizations want to stem that tide by helping close patient care gaps and improve cancer screening rates. Taken with healthcare’s trend toward consumerism, customized marketing campaigns might help provider groups make that happen.

“What we've seen organizations use Cheers for is to identify those individuals who lapsed in their cancer screening and to communicate out to them, reminding them to come back and receive that testing so that they could detect potentially any cancers earlier in those stages,” Seering explained.

But even though Epic unveiled Cheers only in March 2022, CRM platforms like it have been around for a few decades. Even in healthcare, CRM technology isn’t novel.

Where Epic Systems saw its place in the market was for tailoring CRM platforms for the healthcare space particularly, Seering said.

Yes, healthcare organizations want to fill care gaps and yes, they want to do so in a way that acknowledges trends in healthcare consumerism. But health systems also have clinical needs, and they need to be able to integrate their marketing and consumerism tools with their existing technologies that are rich with patient data.

That’s where most of the CRM platforms are falling short, at least in healthcare, Epic found after meeting with its customers.

“We've heard of health systems who, after they've completed that integration project, only end up with a couple dozen data elements about their patients in that third-party CRM database,” Seering reported. “If you're only getting a couple dozen elements, you don't actually understand the full story of that individual, and that's where an integrated CRM can really be strong.”

“We enable tens of thousands of data elements, whether it's social determinants of health information, necessary treatment or screening opportunities, demographic procedures, medications, lab results, all of these things are necessary to create that holistic view,” he continued.

That’s not to mention the streamlined approach Epic prioritized by embedding the CRM platform directly into its software suite. Seering said that makes implementation, which is usually a massive data integration project for third-party CRM platforms, much easier.

“The other aspect of it is being able to use that patient portal, MyChart in Epic's instance, as an engagement channel,” Seering pointed out. “Patients trust that channel when they receive that rather than maybe just a random text message or an email.”

That trust is important, healthcare has come to realize. It’s not just the trusting patient-provider relationships that make medical care better, but also overall trust in a healthcare institution. Patients might not open a text or an email if it’s an unknown sender, but patient portal use is growing and patients might be more comfortable on the platform.

Moreover, the patient portal is a HIPAA-compliant channel, Seering pointed out, while SMS text messages and email are not. That means organizations can tailor or personalize patient outreach messages with PHI, like the date of a patient’s most recent mammogram.

But for all of the benefits of an automated patient outreach message, organizations will need to be judicious about how they can effectively roll them out. Seering indicated CRM platforms can’t exactly control for over-messaging; healthcare organizations plan out their own patient outreach schedules.

But Epic has prioritized user training, he said.

“As we work with our community members in rolling out Cheers, one of the elements we talk with them on is how to build a marketing calendar so that we're sending out appropriate and timely messages to individuals so that it actually makes sense for why an individual is receiving the message at that time,” Seering explained.

For example, organizations beginning a cancer screening campaign might align messages with when an individual patient is due for a screening. Providers might send messages en masse if it’s a specific cancer awareness month, too.

There’s also the matter of workload management. Even though CRM platforms automate a lot of patient outreach and engagement, there are aftereffects on other parts of an organization, like a call center.

That happened with Epic Systems was rolling out its Cheers product. The EHR vendor offered Epic users access to Cheers for free to help them manage their COVID-19 vaccine campaigns.

“During that development process, some of our community members said that they wanted an easier way to throttle the messages so that they weren't overwhelming call centers or their MyChart servers with messages to book these appointments,” Seering recalled.

That problem was within Epic’s control, and the user feedback was valuable for helping developers retool the CRM platform to let users pace messages.

“That went from customer ideation to development to deployment in just a few weeks that we were able to put out there,” Seering said.

Epic’s work in the CRM space isn’t done, Seering added.

“One of the pieces that we've heard from organizations as a major gap in their third-party CRM platforms is the ability to calculate downstream outcomes,” he said.

Organizations don’t have enough granular data about how their patient outreach messages actually impact patient outcomes. Although many CRM platforms offer insights into open rates and even how many outreach messages transitioned into scheduled appointments, Seering said users want to know even more, like how many outreach messages yielded an early cancer detection.

That’s important for healthcare organizations that are recalibrating their population health strategies in a healthcare consumerism world. While health systems borrow from the service sector to support the needs and expectations of patient-consumers, they still need the clinical insights that health IT platforms provide.

Seering said Epic Systems intends for Cheers to fill that gap.

“Health systems are really trying to understand their populations and build one-on-one unique interactions with each of their patients,” he concluded. “And that's where a CRM platform built specifically for healthcare and integrated into the full electronic medical record enables organizations to understand those populations, each of their unique needs, and to help them on their specific healthcare journeys.”

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