• June 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Modern Medicine: A Marketing Headache

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When it comes to customer self-service, the medical industry is far ahead of many other verticals in its use of technology, but customer use of those options is still far from prevalent.

Typically, only 15 percent of all calls are handled through self-service, well above the average of 8.9 percent across all verticals, according to contact center industry analyst firm ContactBabel.

It's not that self-service isn't available. Sixty percent of healthcare-related contact centers offer some form of self-service, ContactBabel maintains. That, too, is well above the cross-industry average of 48 percent.

Of those healthcare organizations that offer self-service, 36 percent have an IVR with speech recognition, compared to just 11 percent for speech-based IVRs across all verticals.

The medical industry is also above average in its use of automated IVRs for outbound applications. Seventeen percent of outbound calls in the medical field are made via automation; the average across verticals is just 8 percent.

Similar research by Strategic Contact and Contact Center Pipeline found widespread use by healthcare organizations of many other technologies, including voicemail (85.7 percent), email (82.1 percent), fax (88.9 percent), and Web self-service (77.8 percent). Adoption of customer service channels including text, Web chat, social media, and mobile applications, is lower, but not far below most industries. "Healthcare…is slightly ahead of or in step with other industries," says Maren Symonds, marketing director at Strategic Contact. "Where it is behind, privacy issues often come into play."

ContactBabel's research also indicates that the medical industry comes up short in its use of other behind-the-scenes call center technologies. While the national average for the use of call recording is 80 percent, the medical industry averages 63 percent. Forty-five percent of all healthcare organizations use workforce optimization solutions; the national average across industries is 63 percent. Speech analytics has the lowest adoption in the medical field, with only 9 percent of organizations currently using the technology.

The medical industry is also far behind the curve when it comes to engaging with unhappy customers. The national average for responding to dissatisfied customers within one day is 66 percent; the medical industry's response rate is 50 percent.

Industry watchers expect CRM technology adoption among healthcare providers to slow as the industry shifts toward electronic healthcare records (EHRs), an undertaking that is likely to consume all its IT resources for the next two years. Even after the mandated shift to EHRs by 2014 is completed, healthcare providers will likely struggle tying all their other systems into the EHR.

That shift is part of the broad healthcare reforms outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). "On the technical side, it's about making sure you have the right security in place with regard to who has access to the [patient] information," says A.J. Melaragno, vice president of hospital markets at Sharecare and former director of marketing at Chicago's Northshore University Health System.

These records will be the "backbone of all communications back and forth with the patient," Melaragno adds.

And in an industry where accurate information can be the difference between life and death, healthcare organizations will be under even more pressure to maintain up-to-date patient information. This is one area where Melaragno says the industry is lacking, much to the detriment of individual practices. "Inaccurate information does not sit well with patients. They are reluctant to trust their care to an organization that does not have the right information about them," he says.

Getting the right information into the EHR and keeping it up to date is key, says Melaragno, who suggests that providers allow patients to review and update their own records from time to time.

"If you have a solid CRM system in place, it can make changes easier operationally," Melaragno explains.

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