A Healthy Dose of CRM

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Branding and customer loyalty are largely unexplored concepts in the healthcare field. But Memorial Care Centers recognizes the importance of gathering customer information and providing services based on that data. We wanted to gather data through a credit-card model. Ideally, the card would contain patients' pertinent medical and insurance information, and could be scanned at our various medical facilities. Our goal was to reduce paperwork for patients and doctors; all the information a patient would normally provide on paper would automatically be pulled from a database. That database would also marry patient information with payment preference and insurance eligibility quotes. This would be a valuable service for affiliated doctors, because they could immediately determine copayment amounts and get on-the-spot payment, with the patient's permission. We knew that industries like the airlines were using card models with a database behind them--there was much success with frequent flyer cards and supermarket shopper discount cards. Yet, neither of these models was quite right for a medical organization, because unlike other industries we couldn't offer any discounts or perks to entice patients to sign up for the card. We embarked on a yearlong fact-finding program with a market research firm that conducted surveys by phone and questionnaires about what patients would want from a card. Patients told us the card had to be useful, even outside our network of Southern California hospitals. For example, if someone had a car accident in Ohio, that card needed to provide some value. That's when we hit upon the idea of allowing patients to choose what information they would like printed on the card, and what would remain in the database to be pulled confidentially as necessary. In this way the card could serve as a quick, easy medical reference and catalog of personal information. Once we knew what patients wanted, the next step was to provide it. We started researching technologies, only to find out that while components of what we wanted were available, there was nothing specific to our field. We decided to build the database in-house. Using an SQL server our IT department built a CRM application that could gather information from the more than 100 departmental facilities in our hospital system about everything from medical history to payment preference. Patients get their cards through our Web site for free. To date the system has steadily provided value to physicians in immediate collection of copayments--to the tune of about $7 million a year. Previously this was money that either went uncollected or was diminished by the administrative costs associated with mailing multiple bills. Our homegrown system has been so successful that we are using it for other CRM functions, as well as patient-specific direct-mail newsletters. Each newsletter provides information based on medical history. For example, a new mom will get newsletters about the first year of child development. Additionally, we are working with other industries to potentially provide our 500,000 members discounts for preventive care facilities like health clubs. Our implementation has been highly successful, but we learned a couple of key things: A good CRM system can be a long-term proposition that may take years to research and set up, but it's worth it. And just because your business may appear outside the realm of traditional marketing and CRM efforts, doesn't mean it really is. Forward thinking, strong motivation, and creativity can help CRM work for any company.
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