Webinar Q&A – Beyond the EHR: Cultivating Patient Engagement & Loyalty Through CRM

Patient and PhysicianDuring a recent Modern Healthcare webinar, Kristin Hambelton, Chief Marketing Officer at Evariant, discussed how patient engagement across the entire care continuum can help healthcare organizations retain and grow revenue in a competitive market.

Though there are many different definitions of patient engagement, true engagement is about creating trust between the patient and health system, nurturing a relationship that lasts over the course of a patient’s lifetime.

Engaging patients through relationships, however, requires a knowledge of patients as individuals and an understanding of their unique habits, wants, and needs – both clinical and non-clinical – throughout the care continuum.

This understanding is possible by combining healthcare CRM software and EHR systems. Combined, these two systems weave together patient data from a variety of sources, including demographic, social, behavioral, and clinical data. A comprehensive, 360-degree view of the patient helps health systems identify the best way to interact and engage with these individuals in order to build trusting relationships.

Let’s take a look at some key takeaways and questions asked during the webinar:

How do physicians typically react to a CRM system? Most of them don’t like our EHR, and we don’t want to get burned again.

In today’s digital world, consumers are looking for health information – and it’s up to healthcare organizations to provide it. CRM systems help hospitals and health systems provide consumers with the information necessary to transform them into actively engaged patients committed to working with their physicians to stay healthy. Here’s how:

  • Targeted, relevant and accurate messaging: CRM systems can segment out patient information (demographic, psychographic, social, behavioral, etc.). By building, launching, optimizing, and measuring multichannel marketing campaigns, healthcare organizations can understand more about patient behavior and target ongoing messaging accordingly. The end result is stronger relationships with patients that continue throughout the patient lifecycle, from the first office visit throughout the entire care continuum.
  • Data integrated across disparate sources: With CRM technology in combination with the EHR, hospitals and health systems can develop a 360-degree view of the patient that encompasses the entire patient lifecycle (patient’s condition, medical history, prior treatment, etc.). Developing a full and complete picture of the patient journey allows organizations to provide truly patient-centric care and drive patient engagement over the long term.
  • Precise, continuous learning: CRM systems can act as a forecaster of patient needs, delivering precise, continuous learning that helps health systems make informed, strategic decisions about patients based on predictive insights and advanced analytics. This system helps to ensure the right message reaches the right patient at the right time.

How can our marketing team best engage with our IT department to get this data and integrate these two systems (CRM and EHR)? Sometimes they are hesitant in taking on other projects.

It’s important to note that IT departments don’t operate in the same way that marketing departments do; they have different goals, desires, visions, etc. At its core, IT is a sunken cost center, meaning it’s extremely programmatic whereas marketing has to yield revenue. 

Because the speed, pace, and desire that marketing wants to move is not the same as IT, the first step for marketing is to extend an olive branch to IT and slowly build acceptance about the importance of an EHR’s data to a CRM system over time.

In other words, marketers need to “sell” the collective vision of integrating EHR with CRM, and what that integration would mean to the hospital or health system as a whole (richer patient engagement, improved loyalty, net new patients, etc.).


There is definitely a gap between marketing and our clinical organization. How can you help clinical systems and system owners be willing to share data with marketing?

Healthcare has historically been siloed in its operations and delivery of services, and this is further magnified given concerns around inappropriate or non-compliant use of PHI. Yet to optimally service the patient (i.e. the customer) and provide a remarkable healthcare experience, leveraging all information available about the customer or patient is best, including using PHI appropriately and securely.

Breaking down walls and siloes is tough, but doable. Education about CRM as well as desired marketing/engagement initiatives is key. It’s important to start small with lower risk areas or with groups willing and open to change. Generating small victories with compelling proof points can help start a movement that can then yield bigger change and impact.

Much like the idea of “digital marketing” to patients or potential patients was initially thought of as crazy, hundreds of successes and proof points over the past few years have now established this as “normal” and “expected” if you want to win in the new world of relationship-based healthcare.

What are some tips for a successful EHR and CRM integration?

Setting expectations is critical. From the onset, it’s important that all teams involved realize that integration isn’t “plug and play.” Although there are guidelines that can be used to establish an expected completion date, each integration will vary from hospital to hospital; there are lots of depending factors, such as the type of EHR system used, how it’s used, the quality of the data within the EHR, and more. A good CRM vendor will work with you to understand your systems and processes, and, from that, help you determine realistic expectations.

A strong partnership with your CRM vendor is also crucial. Your vendor should understand what it takes to successfully plan, implement, and service their solution for all types of users. Serving as mentors, coaches, and partners, your CRM vendor should assist in removing technical hurdles, answering questions, evaluating strategies, and planning for future success.

Lastly, if at all possible, make sure your data is clean. Clean data leads to improved data collection, which means you can get up and efficiently running on your CRM system faster. Further, unless you’re providing clean data into your CRM system, you’ll have trouble on the back end trying to prove the efficacy of your engagement campaigns and calculating ROI.

With integrated EHR/CRM systems, what EHR data is being shared with CRM systems?

crm-patient-engagement-programsSome of the common data elements being shared include standard service data on the EHR side (consumer service, clinical history data, outcomes, etc). On the CRM side, some data elements that are being shared include: inquiry and referral data from websites, web forms, and call centers, as well as consumer self-service educational resources, brochures, and contact information acquired from campaigns and promotional/outreach activities, among other items.

Besides EHR data, what other kinds of data does a CRM use?

CRM weaves together multiple sources of data, including EHR/clinical, patient demographics, financial, website, call center, claims, provider credentialing, and other disparate data sources to provide a comprehensive view into patient habits and activities.

How does a CRM report on ROI?

Because a CRM system can “track” and “tag” each engagement campaign tactic, it can report on responses in detail. Attribution can then be further linked to clinical conversion and related financial data so that you can measure the efficacy and ROI of your campaigns.

CRM can also improve your bottom line by lowering your patient acquisition costs. Since you’re aware of the best people to reach out to, what kind of service or product to reach them with, and the best way in which to reach them, your efficiency in outreach is increased overall, and you don’t have to spend money trying to engage others.

We know our EHR won’t take us to the “patient engagement” promise land, but we just don’t have the budget to buy more technology. Do you have tips for how to get new budget or reallocate other budget to be able to invest in CRM?

It’s no secret that most hospitals and health systems are experiencing a “hangover,” both emotionally and financially, from their EHR implementations. IT capital budgets are still trying to recover from expensive EHR implementations, which makes it difficult to ask for more money to bridge technology gaps left by the EHR. Conveniently, though, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are treated as operating expenditures (OpEx) as opposed to capital expenditures (CapEx), making budget negotiations a little bit more palatable.

With Evariant’s clients, we’ve seen hospitals and health systems recoup their investment in CRM in under one year. In fact, efforts around CRM have been so successful and have driven so many new patients, the administration has been eager to shift more budget to CRM and outreach/engagement strategies. Besides patient acquisition and engagement, they want to know what other kinds of things they can achieve with the CRM system.

Can a CRM system help my health system with its population health initiatives? What about engaging with high-risk patients?

A CRM would complement and greatly strengthen your existing population health management initiatives and capabilities by providing strong patient and consumer engagement throughout the continuum of care. A CRM can uniquely identify groups by health risk, condition, or other criteria and deliver precise and measurable messaging that engage and benefit those groups.

CRM can bring together a very broad set of data points that allows organizations to obtain a clearer picture of the health of their patients and communities, including demographics, psychographic and concepts of behavioral economics, and predictive models that can analyze and synthesize otherwise fragmented and unconnected data.

This allows organizations that deploy CRM systems to think more strategically relative to certain groups of patients and focus energy and available resources where it’s needed and most likely to be successful. For example, which individuals have a propensity to be high users of certain services because of chronic conditions, age, lifestyle, behaviors, and other available facts?

Final Thoughts

The healthcare system is undergoing changes, especially value-based care, merger mania, erosion of payer mix, consumerism, and physician alignment. Combined, these shifts have created a competitive environment where health organizations are struggling to maintain and grow revenue.

Studies have shown hospitals that provide superior patient experience generate 50 percent higher financial performance than average providers. For that reason, an effective patient engagement strategy is critical as health systems try to acquire, retain, and re-activate patients. By combining healthcare CRM software and EHR software, health systems have access to a holistic view of the patient to improve outreach and communication personalization, and ultimately drive engagement.


Sherrie Mersdorf

Sherrie Mersdorf

Sherrie Mersdorf is the Vice President of Marketing at Evariant. As an experienced marketing leader, she brings deep knowledge and experience building marketing growth machines. This experience enables her to educate healthcare providers on how to find, guide and keep patients for life. Her main focus is creating integrated cross-channel marketing programs, testing new marketing approaches, and closing the loop and demonstrating marketing ROI through effectiveness measurement methodologies. Prior to joining Evariant, Sherrie lead marketing at NewBrand (acquired by Sprinklr) and Cvent (NYSE:CVT) where her team executed tens of thousands of campaigns a year. She has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management from the Pamplin School of Business at Virginia Tech.
Sherrie Mersdorf