One of the elements of a marketing plan is to know who one’s customers and potential customers are. Who uses one’s services, and how does one establish a relationship with them so they are likely to continue doing so? Which potential customers use a competitor’s services, and how does one persuade them to use one’s own instead?
Kingston-based HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley has been busy integrating its facilities and people into a single organization. There’s been a lot to do. The establishment of a single state-of-the-art emergency room at Kingston Hospital is probably the most visible of the integrative steps that HealthAlliance has taken in the past year. (An expanded emergency room at HealthAlliance’s third hospital in Margaretville has handled more than 4000 patients this year; a goal is to “enhance” Margaretville volume.)
In a talk to the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce back in June, CEO David Lundquist called HealthAlliance’s efforts of the previous year and a half to establish an improved organizational structure a good start. With that organizational structure now in place, Lundquist predicted that the focus would now switch.
“I’d like to emphasize that,” he said. “It’s a good start. We’re now going to focus on integrating into the community, both on the medical side and also the business side.”
As this integration continues at the 2400-employee organization, chief strategy officer Josh Ratner says, it will turn to questions of operation: infrastructure, technology and systems.
The step after that, Ratner says, will consist of achieving a series of strategic metrics HealthAlliance has set to measure itself against best-practice performance. HealthAlliance aims to be measured as among the top ten per cent of all health systems in the nation.
What operational matters will be addressed first? Ratner mentions three: a consolidated department of human resources, a review of policies and procedures, and improvement of the organization’s communications systems.
That last item is not just a matter of better telephones. It will require what its strategic plan describes as “superior customer service.”
Many customers have noticed an increased interest from HealthAlliance in feedback on the services it’s providing. Were you dealt with promptly and correctly? Who in your opinion was doing a good job [at the hospital] in dealing with your health situation? Who was doing a not-so-good job?
Though the attention has drawn suspicion from many customers — what are they really trying to find out, anyway? — most people seem willing to express their feelings. Why not?
The organization’s strategic plan makes the influence of customer feedback clear: “Superior customer service will be our key differentiator.” Lundquist and Ratner emphasized that these efforts could not simply be window dressing. The proportion of customers rating the overall service they receive at HealthAlliance as either nine or ten on a scale of ten was 53.2 percent last year. The goal for this metric anticipates dramatic improvement: 70 percent this year, 75 percent next year, and 80.6 percent in 2012.
Contacting and influencing the customer and potential customer is the other side of the coin. The acronym for doing that is CRM, Customer Relationship Management. A Wisconsin company called Reach3 is a provider of CRM software to hundreds of health-care organizations across the country that “use our data-driven technology to optimize their marketing and show proven results.”
HealthAlliance announced in November that it would utilize Reach3’s CRM systems. “Our marketing team needs the immediate any-time ability to create strategic outreach campaigns, so we can act quickly when marketing opportunities arise,” Ratner is quoted in a press release as saying. “It is also imperative that we have the ability to accurately demonstrate the ROI [Return On Investment] of these efforts. The Reach3 CRM not only fulfills these needs, its support team also helps us make sure that we are optimizing communication efforts through design, copy, tone and calls-to-action.”
Reach3’s platform enables HealthAlliance to integrate hospital data from all three of its facilities “without straining its hospital information technology resources.” Marketing data will help HealthAlliance “accurately identify patients and prospects at risk of developing certain conditions or requiring certain services to help them get the care they need…when they need it,” Ratner is quoted as explaining in a November 1 press release from Reach3. Reach3’s executive director, Jim Schleck, said he anticipated that CRM would “help this organization strengthen its community ties and boost the bottom line.”
Ratner emphasizes the holistic potential of the Reach3 platform. “How do we use it to reach out to the overall community for health and wellness the whole population in a targeted way – Healthy Ulster?” he asks.
HealthAlliance has also decided to utilize an ambitious software product developed by McKesson as the basis for the health system’s adoption of electronic health records. This early stage will hopefully later blossom into meeting the federally designated standard of “meaningful use.” The federal government offers financial incentives to eligible physicians for the adoption and meaningful use of health-record technologies.
For 2011 the federal definition of meaningful use requires capture of medical information in such a way that it can be used to track clinical conditions and to assist with the coordination of medical care.
Says Ratner about the federal deadlines for meaningful use: “We feel we will meet these.”
HealthAlliance is currently investing in a new computer and a new server room to house it. There’s a lot to be done.
Health Quest, the dominant nearby hospital player on the east bank of the Hudson River, is implementing a complex management information system called Monarch developed by the Massachusetts-based firm Datawatch. Over the next five years, health-care organizations will be required to report meaningful-use metrics based on the implementation of electronic medical records. ++