TraktionTalks Podcast: Taking The Fear Out Of Healthcare CRM

In the inaugural episode of Traktion Talks, our new podcast series focused on trends and innovations in healthcare marketing, we turned to a good friend of Traktion, Darren Hearsch. Darren is the principal of Siteline Consulting, and an expert in CRM architecture within healthcare, particularly behavioral health. In our conversation we talked about why CRM is important, how it can integrate with other systems like an EHR, and what any healthcare provider should be thinking about when approaching a project like this.

Podcast Transcript

Jon: Hello, and welcome to Traktion Talks. Today, we’re joined by Darren Hirsch, who’s a good friend of Traktion Partners, and also the owner of Siteline Consulting, a consultancy developing web, marketing, automation and CRM solutions for companies, many of whom happen to be in the healthcare space. Darren, thanks for joining us. 

Darren: Hey Jon, thanks for having me. Appreciate the opportunity. 

Jon: Yeah, yeah, let’s get right to it. Healthcare is a complicated space, as you know very well. There’s a lot of data involved. And with technology, things like HIPAA compliance, and obviously wanting to create great patient experiences, those things can get messy pretty quickly. 

Jon: So you’ve implemented solutions for several healthcare clients, and in your experience, what types of problems can a CRM solve? And why is this a good investment for healthcare companies specifically? If you want to start out just by doing a explaining in your words, what a CRM solution entails? And we can sort of go into some of the details, if that makes sense. 

Darren: Sure, I think that’s actually a good starting point, Jon, you know, typically, when you think about CRM, you think about a software platform that manages interactions with your customers, usually pre-sales, things like tracking leads and tracking follow ups and something that your sales team looks at, or looks at how much money they’ve closed this quarter, and what’s coming and opportunities and all that sort of stuff. And it’s really interesting to think about CRM within the context of healthcare, because you don’t typically think about a sales process and healthcare sort of in the same context. But what we found, we had a couple of clients come to us, and they were really having problems managing their admissions process, the admissions process, it’s a long process that can sometimes take three, four or five weeks, multiple stakeholders involved, you know, there’s the patient, there’s oftentimes the patient’s family, there’s sometimes the patient’s doctors, there’s documents, there’s compliance, there’s a lot of steps in that process. And many of the EHR systems that our clients were using, don’t really have facilities to manage a complex process like this, these EHR systems do a great job managing the treatment process, once the patient is actually admitted, and they’re undergoing treatment, that’s what they’re for. But they don’t do a good job of managing the intake. And conversely, they don’t do a good job of managing the discharge process, which is a new thing that we’re starting to work with some of our clients on is how do we, how we track what happens with patients after they leave the system. So, you know, when we were talking to these clients about how to solve this problem, CRM kind of came into the equation. And and we thought that process of admissions is very similar to a typical sales process. 

There’s multiple people, there’s multiple steps, there’s follow ups, there’s ways things can fall through the cracks. And so we started to get a little deeper into that sort of discovery process with these clients. And we were able to map their admissions process to CRM workflows. We’re specifically using Salesforce, because it is probably the most flexible CRM platform out there. And that’s really where we found that there’s a niche. There’s a whole bunch of healthcare companies that run into this problem where they can’t adequately track their admissions process. They can’t, you know, there’s data security issues, as you mentioned, there’s HIPAA and everybody’s just emailing forms back and forth. And they’re sticky notes on monitors and admissions is forgetting to call people back when they don’t hear from them after three or four days. And CRM really kind of fits into that scenario and helps tighten up that process, put some standardization in place, put in a secure facility to manage the actual data. So it lives somewhere where people can look at it. And it just really sits in front of that EHR process really nicely. And we found that it’s given our clients some really major gains in terms of their efficiency of managing the process, and also just the ability to track and report and see what’s going on to help them understand what’s really happening with their business. 

Jon: That’s great. So you talked a lot about EHR, in terms of integration, and what that looks like for a typical client, and obviously, that that may depend on what a particular healthcare organization’s needs might be or what their admissions process might look like. But what sort of lives on the on the CRM side versus what’s being fed into the EHR? 

Darren: So what we’ve been doing, again, this could differ based on what the EHR can track. But for a particular client of ours we’ve been putting all of the admissions process in CRM, so that’s everything from when the marketing reps are interacting with the referral sources. In our particular scenario, most of our patient referrals come from a doctor or a hospital. So we track all of that data, and we manage all of that data in CRM, so that we have the ability then to use digital marketing tools that can plug into that CRM. So for example, with Salesforce, you can plug into MailChimp, you can plug into all these external tools very easily. And you can leverage all of the data that’s in Salesforce, rather than if that data was in the EHR, or there’s not as much opportunity to really kind of take that data and utilize with external platforms. But in addition to that, we really track everything in CRM up until the prospect becomes a patient, meaning they actually came in and were admitted to the facility. And at that point, we would hand off the data to the EHR, and the EHR would manage the treatment process exclusively. In this case we just didn’t think CRM really needed to know the internals of the treatment process. And obviously, you run across HIPAA compliance there. And, there’s definitely some more sensitive data that’s being captured once the patient is actually a patient. So in our situation, CRM manages everything from when our clients typically do an assessment. So that is a meeting where they sit down with the patient in person (not in person now, but typically, it would be), and they check to see that the person is really a good fit for their program. And then they said, okay, you’re a good fit. So all the scheduling of those meetings, all of the data that’s tracked in those meetings, all of that is stored in CRM. And then once the admission actually completes, which it doesn’t always complete, a lot of times people fall out, for one reason or another. But once the admission actually completes, that’s when the EHR takes over. And then once the HR is done, and once the treatment is over, the client’s ready to be discharged. Again, that’s kind of the back end of the process where we see CRM coming into play again. Some of the new projects we’re working on are focused on that area of the whole engagement. 

Jon: That’s really  interesting. And as you said, in the beginning, it is strange to think about a medical or healthcare process, like that sounds so much like a sales process. But when you really break it down into those steps that you talked about, at its core level, it really is very similar to that, and similar to other industries that are using the same CRM tool.

Darren: So typically, with a project like this, we would sit down with the client and have kind of a discovery project, you know, maybe take three or four weeks where we sit down with the admissions team, sit down with some of the doctors and kind of talk through how the how their interaction with clients works and where they’re having problems, and where things fall through the cracks. And it was interesting, as we did that, it was just kind of like the lightbulb went off, but I would say 70% of that admissions process fits very well with a standard kind of an opportunity flow that you would typically see in a Salesforce flow, or something like that. And then you have 30% that doesn’t, but the good thing is with some of the CRM platforms out there that have the ability to customize, you can sort of bend the standard process to fit that 30% deviation and you’re not building something up from scratch, you know, you’re you’re able to take advantage of a lot of the pre built sales functions. You’re just kind of manipulating them a little bit to fit a little more if there’s, I used to laugh, it goes, for some reason it cheapens health care a little bit when you talk about sales, but at the end of the day, everybody is a business and they are technically selling stuff. It’s just it took a little while for me to wrap my head around that correlation between sales and people going into the hospital, you know. 

Jon: Right, exactly. So what would one of these projects look like from beginning to end in terms of just a timeline? And what are some of the steps involved in that? You know, obviously, everyone hears when people hear things like CRM or EHR projects, everyone thinks that these, you know, these huge technology projects that seem to have no end. And obviously, you’ve been successful in being able to implement these for clients. So what what does that typically look like? 

Darren: Yeah, you know, you have to defeat the monster a little bit. We deal with a lot of clients who have been burned with CRM implementations. And I really think that’s because it’s just a lack of planning upfront, you know, you really have to be realistic and understand what you can really tackle, what you can actually build. My philosophy is always to build in smaller chunks, get the software in front of the users and give them something they can start interacting with, rather than, you know, building out a behemoth system, and then dropping that on people all at once. So what we’ve done with with our healthcare, specifically, healthcare related CRM implementations, timelines for these projects are typically three to four months, we don’t tackle everything at once. Typically, you know, after we go through our discovery process, which is probably three to four weeks, maybe a couple meetings a week, and really just brainstorming, sitting down talking through processes, drawing out process maps, trying to get everything down on paper, so that we understand how the client is currently working with their potential patients. And then we’d look at that process and try to refine it, see if there’s some efficiencies, maybe they’re doing some extra work that they don’t need to do. And then we take that and sort of map that into the actual CRM. And that can involve things like what’s our data schema? Right, there’s a lot of different data fields that you want to capture, that are not typical. For one of our clients, Skyland Trail here in Atlanta, the types of questions that they ask when patients are going to admit, are very specific. Other things like, does the client have an eating disorder, there’s a whole list of sort of very specific treatment related questions, and so you have to build out the whole database schema. And then you have to talk about workshops. So when, when people come into the system, what happens once we receive a consent document for the patient. Do we need to send a notification to a particular person so that they can then look at that consent document, and make sure that all the fields are filled in properly? And so there’s a whole mapping once you have sort of the process maps visually, then we have to go in and map that process, sort of programmatically to the way the CRM system works. And then once that’s done, we then have to go into building out the actual functionality, and then obviously, rolling into documentation and training. And that’s always very specific. Now I have one client where their users are very savvy. And the training was going in there for four hours one day and running them through the system, and they were good to go. I have another client who’s not quite so savvy, and that training took a couple of weeks of bi-weekly meetings, to sit with their team and actually walk through the process. So there’s some variability there. But three to six months is typically what we talked about. One of the things that is important to keep in mind, if you’re going to invest in CRM, it’s typically not a one and done investment. It’s just one of those things that once you start down that road, there’s always new opportunities that crop up. And so when I talk to people about investing in this type of software, I don’t mean to say that just it’s an ongoing span. It’s an ongoing process improvement, because once you start to see the benefits, the light bulbs go off, you know, and every other week, I have conversations where we’re doing a lot of “could we do this, and could we do that, and how might this work?” And so that’s one of the things that I really enjoy, is you see that people are really getting value from implementing a software whereas often larger software investments kind of leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. I’ve seen that with the CRM projects we’ve done, it just leads to new opportunities and new improvements that can be made in the business. Yeah, so defeat the monster. I love that analogy. It’s a great analogy for big technology projects. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Right? I’m gonna make that a t-shirt out of that, Jon (laughs). I’ll send you one. 

Jon: Sounds good, I look forward to that! So that’s a good segue into, you know, we obviously are in an unprecedented time, in the midst of the pandemic, which has certainly had a major impact on everything, especially healthcare. What have you seen? How has that impacted some of the projects that you’re seeing? Has it changed your approach, how you implement a CRM, or some of these solutions? And are those things that you see as temporary, or are they more permanent even once we’re past the point in which we are today?

Darren: You know, one of the things that has really kind of made me feel good about these implementations we’ve done is the changes that my clients have been requesting related to COVID do not require any re-engineering of the platform, really, what they’re doing is they’re sort of adjusting their process to support additional documentation and consents. So both of the clients here in Atlanta that we’ve worked with now require COVID testing, obviously, as a part of their admissions process. And that’s challenging because, you know, you want to keep contact with the client. In other words, you don’t want to say, go get a COVID test and come back to us when you’re done. Because that’s an opportunity for that patient then to just go away, right? So my clients have been facilitating COVID testing. And what that means is when they speak to a client, a potential patient, and they’re talking about their admission, they will actually schedule a COVID test date for them, they have a partner that they’re using to do the testing. And so they’re managing that process. What I’ve been doing from sort of a process management standpoint, is I’ve been changing the admissions process to support what I would call a kind of extension to manage this, this COVID tracking. And that’s really all we’ve been doing. We already had the ability for them to schedule virtual assessments, because they did that often, if you have a client who’s in California, and you want to do an assessment with them before you know if they’re going to be a good fit, you’re not going to make them fly to Atlanta and do that in person. So we already had the idea of virtual meetings in the platform. So there wasn’t, there weren’t any significant changes needed for that. It’s really more managing the consents, managing the flow of information, to give patients all of the information they need, before they come into the facility just to limit the amount of time needed face to face, asking questions and things of that nature. So it’s really been a refinement of the process that we built. We haven’t had to really re-engineer anything, which again, makes me feel good. It makes me feel like we, we did some good thinking when this process was initially designed. And that means that you can fit things into it. And they don’t, they don’t cause anything to break. You just have to bend things a little bit. 

Jon: Right, right. That makes sense. Let’s talk about nonprofits a little bit. I know from your background, some of your clients, specifically within healthcare, are also nonprofit. There’s some advantages, obviously, to that and I know Salesforce has programs around that. Can you talk about that? And what are some of the advantages that nonprofit healthcare organizations could potentially take advantage of here? 

Darren: Sure. I mean, I do think it really comes down to budget. A lot of nonprofits I work with, they just don’t have the money to pay $150 per month per user for a typical Salesforce license, which is what you need if you really want to take advantage of the platform. So Salesforce has a, they call it the power of one, their nonprofit platform package. And what they do is they really take care of nonprofits. There’s some qualifications that you have to meet, but the nonprofits that I work for are able to get free licenses from Salesforce, and significantly discounted licenses. They’ll give you 10 free licenses. And this is for the enterprise package. This is the Salesforce package that gives you all the good stuff. It gives you all the workflows. It gives you all the customization so you can really build out a robust CRM using that license. And then I believe they charge something like $35 per month for licenses, additional licenses if you need. So it’s a huge savings. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars a year for a large organization. And that’s why I really, you know, when I talk to nonprofits, I really recommend Salesforce as a platform that they adopt. Salesforce also has a particular configuration of their platform that is geared toward the nonprofit fundraising aspect, which we don’t really get into with the healthcare clients I’ve worked with. They do their own fundraising, or have their own platform that they use for that. But it is another option that a typical nonprofit would have, because raising money for nonprofits is obviously always a core to that business. But Salesforce has a flavor that has all the donor management, everything built into it. It’s definitely a great program that I’m not sure many people realize exists for nonprofits with Salesforce. I mean, most people hear Salesforce and they believe that to be an expensive integration. And they see that basically everybody sees dollar signs when they hear that word. And from the nonprofit side of things, it’s really just the opposite. And so I’ve been really pleased with what they offer to really help nonprofits function efficiently. Absolutely.

Jon: So before we wrap up a little bit about the marketing side, it’s always been interesting to me with CRM, as some people tend to think of it as an IT thing. Other people may see it as an operational thing. And other people see it strictly as a marketing thing. And obviously, it’s the combination of all of those and perhaps more stuff on the marketing side. Specifically, what are the types of things that a CRM system can enhance or plug into? 

Darren: So for healthcare, specifically, what we found is, you know, our clients have sort of two different sides, two different users. One user role who interacts with their CRM, they are the admissions team. And the admissions team is the one who’s dealing with getting all of the documents, getting all of the consents, they’re sort of dealing with the nuts and bolts of the admissions process, trying to move the patient from a potential patient to an actual real patient kind of taking them through a sales process, if you will. We also have a marketing team. But the marketing team is not marketing directly to patients. The marketing team is marketing to what we call referring organizations. So hospitals, doctors offices, therapists, anybody who would have a patient who they might refer over to one of the organizations that I work with. So from a marketing side of things, you know, the marketing team, they use a lot of CRM data all the time. So they will, they’ll look at geographically where their patients are coming from. And they may find that they have a particular state or a particular region in the country where, for some reason, they’re getting a lot of referrals. And that will help them sort of move their marketing activities to focus more marketing on that particular area of the country. So we really do have, you know, CRM is really the central point of the entire marketing process. But it really involves the admission data. So it’s kind of an interesting scenario where, you know, the marketing activities rely on admissions data. And certainly, you know, there’s a lot of powerful tools, some of which are under the Salesforce umbrella. But there’s also just a whole host of other things that can connect into a Salesforce system that can make marketing very easy. I think that again, it gets down to just having a platform that provides such an extensive API and such an extensive partnership with these various digital marketing tools that you can get the data. Once you understand what you want to do, it’s very easy to expose that data to other systems so that then you can act on those marketing activities, whether it’s email marketing, or, you know, SEM or whatever, whatever sort of digital marketing activity is yours.

Jon: Well, this has been terrific. I think a great overview of how CRM can plug into healthcare systems and how it can really operate specific to this vertical, and certainly there’s a lot of things about healthcare that are quite specific, that you know, that necessitate having the knowledge and the expertise to really do it. Right? So we appreciate you taking the time to just share that with us today. Before I let you go, by the way, how can people find you if they want to reach out to you directly? 

Darren: So our website is Always happy to speak with people and always looking for new projects. 

Jon: Sounds good. And we’ll look forward to getting that t-shirt coming our way!

Darren: Thanks, Jon. I appreciate it.

Transcribed by

Posted in