Customers come first

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Providers should use customer relationship management tools as a way to build referral relationships, experts say.
Providers should use customer relationship management tools as a way to build referral relationships, experts say.

Residents are at the center of the long-term care business model. They are the “customers” in the industry. So what would long-term care be without enough customers?

Customer Relationship Management (often referred to as CRM) tools are created to help make sure providers never have to find that out.

CRM is a way for companies to manage their interactions with current and potential residents. It takes a resident-focused look at recruiting and retention, instead of on an employee level. This can be done through methods such as analyzing resident history with the company. The overarching goal is to improve the company's bottom line through maintaining a high census, among other goals. 

Healthcare providers often think of CRM systems as a sales tool and wonder how it actually applies to their organization, says Becky Capps, a director of product management at MatrixCare. 

“If you think of ‘sales' as driving census/admissions and ‘customers' as both referral sources and patients, then the concepts behind other industries' use of CRM to develop and expand relationships has a natural extension to healthcare,” Capps explains.

A surprising number of communities are still using Excel to track leads, explains Kristin Hambleton, vice president of business development at Continuum CRM.

“We still get a lot of people who don't have a CRM at all, and it's a really valuable tool,” she says. The landscape of senior care is changing, she warns, and along with it the ability to focus on tracking leads.

“Salespeople will need more tools to be more strategic about their sales process,” she adds. “Order taking is not going to work with the baby boomers.”

Plus, as the industry moves toward value-based payments and care, remember that upstream referral sources are founded on outcomes, notes Cheryl Fields, chief product officer at Prime Care Technologies. 

“It is not about liking each other and having a handshake,” she  explains. “It is about what results you can produce as a post-acute partner.”

In addition to grooming referral partners, it is crucial to make sure providers are recruiting and tracking potential residents. 

“Without patients, you can't make money,” observes Dawn Iddings, senior vice president and general manager of Post-Acute for Netsmart. “But it's not only about the quantity, it's also about the quality of their experience. The best facilities know that in order to maintain a steady revenue stream, they need to build a reputation for exceptional care and customer service for referral partners as well as potential patients.” 

Data packaging

Even the term CRM can be intimidating to providers. As technology has changed, however, the central goal has stayed the same.

CRM tools help decode in the most efficient way possible data that is already present in the facility, making it more accessible and beneficial.

“Everything is outcomes-oriented. It is all about data and analytics,” says Fields.

CRMs can be used to identify referral sources that work well with the company to grow the referral network. They also can be used for intake management to identify if prospects and referrals would get the appropriate care in the organization.

“The days of asking for a referral or handing out doughnuts are gone. Now it's about meaningful data,” says Playmaker CRM President and Founder Adam Bishop. In addition to the company's CRM system, he said market intelligence is critically important for providers. 

“We bring in claims data to see where hospitals are referring to,” Bishop explains. “It can tell you why you should be getting more referrals.” 

Armed with data, administrators can return to a hospital and say, “We can help you reduce rehospitalizations and improve your scores,” he says.

CRMs also may be used for source or campaign management to see if money that is going to marketing is actually worth it. They also can help manage lost leads. Why is the company losing business? To whom is it losing business?

Technology should make all of these tasks easier and faster. 

“You can't have a data-driven conversation if you are spending half the time trying to find the data,” Fields observes.

Fitting into LTC

If one thinks of CRM as a sales tool, it might be hard to imagine exactly how it fits into the skilled nursing setting. If individuals need long-term care, providers shouldn't have to sell their prowess so much, right? Wrong.

In places where the market is saturated or there are numerous competitors, it is crucial to show residents and referral partners that the facility is the right one. 

“The more competitive your market, the greater the need for a CRM for both maintaining relationships and meeting census goals,” says Capps.

Maintaining a system to help with professional referral management is a huge part of doing business. A CRM can help identify referral sources to help grow the organization's network. 

“Having access to solid information for population management within post-acute care opens up opportunities for sustained profitability through improved admission and services provided,” Iddings says.

A CRM should be able to grow as the organization expands, both within the current care setting and to other types of care settings, agree Capps and colleague Amy Freeman, senior product manager at MatrixCare.

It also will add to consistency of care for residents. Every facility has its own intake protocols. With CRM, a potential resident's information can be filtered to make sure that he or she meets the requirements for admission. 

Digital profiles can even be made for potential residents, thereby making any eventual transition smoother if/when the resident moves in. They would also decrease the risk of errors or duplicated information, notes
Preeti Suri, senior product manager at PointClickCare. 

What to look for

Providers should start by making a checklist for their desired CRM, such as for its mobile aspects. With them, staff can access information remotely, so they are connected more consistently, Suri says. A mobile tool should be able to be accessed anytime and anywhere. Mobile apps need to work in a disconnected mode, so that providers don't have to count on wireless Internet or phone service.

Technology should help users apply decision support or analytics to the data the CRM gathers, say Freeman and Capps. It isn't enough to collect the data; it needs to help guide actions.

They also suggest considering the technology's integration capabilities. It should be fully integrated with the provider's internal clinical, financial and marketing automation tools. With this, the process of automatic information exchange can not only reduce errors, but it will also decrease duplication during the admission process, which will make everything smoother for the resident and save data entry time. 

A CRM should be able to integrate with the EHR, which will help support pre-admissions management and track performance metrics by different referral sources. EHR integration and having automated pre-admission processes allows the representative to “have a 360 view,” Bishop says. “That really helps with efficiency.”

Experts also advise making sure the CRM can incorporate referral source market intelligence data into the user experience. If the user needs to access additional websites to gain information about a referral source, that is a hassle, say Freeman and Capps.  

About no-shows

As important as it is to attract residents, it's also important to know why they went elsewhere.

A CRM tool can benefit a provider in a number of areas, such as identifying and tracking referrals who don't select the organization. In order to meet census goals, providers can look at this information to see what they should do differently.

“For instance, if you are receiving referrals but not accepting those individuals for care, does that mean that you are targeting the wrong referral sources or that you need to expand capacity?” Capps poses.

Residents also may be looking for amenities and programs that the community does not offer.For example, Hambleton says  traditionally some residents have declined a community because of a lack of alcohol being allowed in the dining room. 

A CRM tool can illustrate this with numbers, rather than anecdotes, and allow an administrator to tell the board, “Maybe we need to revisit the policy,” she notes.

“We are tracking the ‘one-and-lost' reason codes,” she says. “We are building relationships, but we are also selling.”

CRM solutions also can help maintain the relationship with a referral source during times of turnover. The details of these sources and their past activities will stay with the company instead of leaving with an employee when turnover occurs. 

“A solid CRM tool provides organizations the opportunity to foster, build and strengthen relationships with partners from all areas of the care continuum,” notes Iddings. 

Whether or not a market is competitive, CRM can help a long-term care provider. Heavy reliance on Medicare and Medicaid for payment puts providers at a risk for not getting paid if resident eligibility and insurance coverages are not checked, Suri warns.

“A CRM tool that has the capability to do this checking before the resident's admission into the facility is extremely important, as it helps to reduce the risk of non-payment,” she says. 

All of this will help a facility improve and sustain profitability through improved admissions and services. After all, happy “customers” make for a happy provider in the long run.