The health system is using Epic's Cheers tool to connect with patients to discuss health and wellness
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a relatively new concept for healthcare organizations that have long thought little of the patient until they show up in the hospital or doctor's office. But with the shift to patient-centered care and increasing competition in the healthcare marketplace, it's become more important for healthcare providers to listen to what the patient wants.
Health systems are now using CRM tools to get in front of their patients on topics such as vaccinations, wellness visits, screenings, and chronic care management. And they're finding that a technology platform that offers personalized messages at preferred times and channels not only boosts engagement, but can improve clinical outcomes as well.
"Once you have this tool, the value is immediately apparent," says Rachel Everhart, MS, PhD, director of research for Denver Health, which has been using Epic's Cheers CRM tool for more than a year and is seeing large increases in engagement for vaccinations and other services. "It's a different way to think of patient care, and one that is working very well."
CRM tools have been a staple in other industries for many years, but healthcare has been slow to catch on to the value. That has changed with the advent of technology that can capture more data on patients inside and outside the healthcare system, giving providers more information and opportunities to affect health and wellness.
Modules like Cheers enable providers to analyze all that data, identify who needs what specific services or reminders, and even tailor the message for the patient.
"This helps health systems to understand the complete patient journey," says Sam Seering, Epic's product manager for Cheers, who notes more than 200 health systems are currently using at least one aspect of the CRM tool. The technology, he says, "wraps around a connected health insight layer to identify and address gaps in care."
That's an important resource to have at a time when consumers are ignoring or skipping healthcare tasks or failing to follow through on a doctor's recommendations. Health concerns that could be caught early through a screening, test, or even a simple visit to the doctor are festering and turning into much more dangerous issues.
According to Epic, health systems using Cheers in the first few months after the product's launch scheduled more than 3,900 preventative health visits for patients over the age of 40—a key time to check out all those nagging little concerns before they become serious. They also scheduled close to 1,300 mammograms, and in four instances those tests led to a cancer diagnosis.
Denver Health used Cheers in a campaign to improve the rate of parents scheduling annual wellness visits for their children, which had dropped significantly during the pandemic. The health system transitioned from what Everhart calls a home-made CRM tool built on the Microsoft platform.
She says Cheers was "wildly successful" in connecting with parents and convincing them to schedule wellness visits, prompting Denver Health to quickly turn around and set up the platform to address COVID-19 vaccinations.
"Without this, we were relying on front-office staff—when they had the free time—or medical assistants to comb through the records, then pick up a phone and call people," she says. "We would end up leaving a lot of voicemails and really not getting a lot of calls back."
Everhart says the CRM tool pulls providers out of their comfort zone, which has long been to "focus only on the patient in front of you," and think more about value-based care, which centers on a patient's health journey and long-term clinical outcomes. This in turn enables patients to feel that the health system is looking after them, which makes them more receptive to following doctor's orders and scheduling various health and wellness visits.
"It's still a bit of a challenge for us," she admits. "We're talking about new ways of communicating with patients, and we don't want to overburden them. We have to think carefully about how often we send those messages," as well as what channel they're sent on.
Seering says Cheers has also helped health systems increase patient use of the MyChart portal, with the Yale New Haven Health System seeing more than 9,000 portal activations in five months as a result of messages sent through the Cheers tool.
Everhart says Denver Health is currently only using one function in the Cheers toolkit, and is looking forward to adding new functions, such as bi-directional communication and screening assessments for social determinants of health and other factors. Each new tool. She says, will enrich the experience for the patient and give the health system more opportunities to manage care.
"That's a conversation we haven't had yet," she says. "We're very focused right now on what we can do, rather than what we would like to do. We need to plan very carefully where this can go."
The implication is that targeted messaging campaigns can affect clinical outcomes, though there hasn't been enough research done yet to confidently make that point. Everhart says Denver Health is tracking engagement rates as well as clinical actions triggered by the messages, and will be looking to tie in data from those actions and any follow-up care in the future.
Ideally, the tool will engage more patients to schedule appointments with their provider, which in turn will enable Denver Health to catch more health concerns early and develop better care management plans. This will lead to fewer crises and more healthy patients down the road, alongside a much better doctor-patient relationship.
'We already see this as being very successful," she says. "It's so much better than what we had done before."
“We already see this as being very successful. It's so much better than what we had done before.”
— Rachel Everhart, MS, PhD, director of research, Denver Health.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.
Due in part to the pandemic, many people are skipping wellness visits, check-ups, and other health maintenance tasks.
Denver Health is using the Cheers customer relationship management (CRM) module developed by Epic to get in front of its patients and talk to them about care management.
The technology has helped health systems boost scheduled wellness visits, vaccinations, and other tests and increase activity on the patient portal, and could soon be tied to better clinical outcomes.