Ease of access is focus of ScrippsHealth project

CRM’ is latest buzzword

It’s the latest thing, but it’s not really new. Customer relationship management (CRM) has been the health care buzzword for the past six to 12 months, says Nancy Harkin, senior consultant with Southfield, MI-based Superior Consultants. It’s always been true, she points out, that organizations putting the customer first generally flourish.

With that in mind, Harkin says, a team from Superior is assessing the ease of access for customers at ScrippsHealth in San Diego and looking at the potential for consolidating isolated pockets of activity into something called a customer fulfillment center.

"We will be looking at, based on this assessment, what kind of technology will work best to automate various portions of work flow for the biggest return on investment," she says. At the same time, Harkin adds, the goal will be to create the easiest access possible for physicians and employees, as well as for patients and prospective patients.

Center may offer on-line registration

The end product, she says, will be a hybrid of CRM and contact center — or call center, as it is sometimes known — and there likely will be a virtual component. "Certainly, Internet registration is one of the strategies we will be looking at very closely," Harkin adds. "We will be looking to integrate various customer touch points, and those undoubtedly will include the Web. We will look at it from a people, process, and technology standpoint."

It’s about time that health care joins the hotel and airline industries in contemplating consumer management systems, points out Jack Duffy, FHFMA, Scripps corporate director for patient financial services.

"Finally, health care is starting to awaken to the fact that we do a less than stellar job in this area," he says. "We put Suzi’ in charge of radiology scheduling, and a customer calls at noon, when Suzi is going to lunch, and the quality of service declines. We must train to a different level."

There is potential, Duffy adds, for a high degree of integration of access — traditionally a blend of telephone and face-to-face communication — with a lot more telephonic contact and a growing dependence on the Internet.

"The access department will come in as editor," he says, "and there will still be some face-to-face traffic. I’m not sure which term — access services’ or customer fulfillment center’ — will dominate."

Pinpointing customer access

The first stage in putting customer-focused strategic plans in place, notes Harkin, is to determine where the customer touch points are in an organization and with what degree of effectiveness they operate. She suggests asking the following questions:

1. Is your health care organization presenting a unified image to its various stakeholders, or does the image vary with the contact point?

2. Are there defined standards for various types of contact, such as e-mail, standard mail, fax, telephone, and face-to-face? For example, are faxes answered immediately while e-mail languishes for a week or more?

"You must determine what you have before you can determine how much effort and systems change it will take to build what you want," Harkin emphasizes.

Simplify for patient satisfaction

What is new about customer relationship management in the health care market, she says, is that focusing on the customer includes having the ability to manage all interaction channels through which the customers contact your organization.

"Health care is notorious for its separate data silos that don’t talk to one another," Harkin notes.

"It is no longer acceptable for patients to repeat demographic information to each agent along the line as they are transferred from department to department. Technology is the catalyst that enables individuals throughout the organization to be more efficient and effective in their interactions with customers," she continues.

"CRM is becoming the standard for competitive survival," Harkin suggests. "You must have the right tools and the right information in front of your people, or they will be unable to perform as effectively as their CRM-empowered competitors."

(Editor’s note: Hospital Access Management will feature an in-depth discussion of the ScrippsHealth customer fulfillment center project in a future issue.)