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Changes in the way healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies go to market have opened the door for CRM projects, vendors and analysts say.
Heated competition among healthcare providers caused in part by an increase in the choice of carriers available to many patients and payers have forced healthcare providers to become more customer-centric, according to Dave Self, vice president of healthcare solutions at Onyx Software.
"Over the past two years providers have had to think differently about payers," Self says. "Providers are seeing that they need to embrace CRM to retain customers who can easily go elsewhere, and draw new customers from other providers."
Erin Kinikin, vice president and research leader, enterprise applications at Giga Information Group, agrees: "On the one hand, choice is increasingly constrained by HMOs and insurance companies. On the other hand, an educated consumer and their physician can make better choices, be handled more efficiently."
So it is no surprise that Elsa Lion, a technology analyst with U.K. research firm Datamonitor, says in the recent report "Operational CRM: Identifying Nice Opportunities in a Maturing Market" that investment in CRM products in the healthcare sector could increase by as much as 20 percent by 2005.
"Enterprise portals can show a massive ROI in the healthcare vertical as they are implemented to assist with clinical trials of new drugs," Lion says in the report. "Speed is of the essence here, and a successfully tested drug can realize potential savings or revenues of over $1 billion per month in its initial stages. The ability to communicate with other researchers and practitioners through the portal will show huge returns, eliminate inefficiencies, and allow a faster time to market."
Although CRM has begun to penetrate the industry, some providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield (BC/BS) of Minnesota are banking on a homegrown solution based on small components provided by a variety of vendors. "We have put together points of contact [both in the BC/BS Web site and when customers call in via telephone] that have a lot of personalization of content for customers and many self-service attributes," says John Ounjian, senior vice president and CIO of the company. "But we'd never eliminate live assistance functions, so our service representatives have cobrowsing capabilities to help customers as well."
Ounjian says that BC/BS of Minnesota is currently developing speech recognition systems and plans to create a unified desktop view of an individual customer's information or sets of customer information for companies using BC/BS that is easily customizable to suit any user's needs.
Giga's Kinikin notes that healthcare companies will most likely always retain a lot of their own, homegrown technology solutions. "No one is saying that proprietary healthcare applications will go away," she says. "Instead, CRM is becoming a way to provide faster, more accurate healthcare insurance quotes to businesses, more efficient employee enrollment, and more cost-effective answers to consumers asking about deductibles, entitlements, etc."
Kinikin says that no matter how much CRM technology is employed, everything needs to tie back to proprietary systems. "That means you're much more likely to see 'CRM on the edges' and much less likely to see any kind of wholesale replacements" she says. "Healthcare is really about providing service to sick people. CRM just helps you get more business with appropriate risk levels, and helps serve the consumers at a lower cost while still providing acceptable results."
One example of "CRM on the edges," as Kinikin puts it, is in the case of Novartis Pharmaceuticals selecting Jeeves Solutions, a division of Ask Jeeves Inc., to help improve customer usability and service across all 22 of its U.S. product and disease Web sites. Novartis will use JeevesOne, Jeeves Solutions' natural language search solution, to improve Web site usability and gain insight into the wants and needs of its customers.
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