Healthcare’s Category Convergence

As a savvy marketer in healthcare services or IT, you know the old dilemma – do I market my company as an existing category, or create a new one? This challenge is commonly seen when talking about telemedicine, population health, and patient engagement, to name a few. But while this is an important strategic question, it’s no longer the only category question.

Non-healthcare categories are slowly eking into healthcare, and there are some very real implications for healthcare services and IT companies and their communications leaders.

Are you surprised? Well, it’s not just you – no one is noticing because those brands, for once, aren’t using the old healthcare categories. And God bless them for that! Because the story of healthcare innovation isn’t about population health or engagement, it’s about leveraging data. And if you haven’t noticed, the healthcare industry is way behind there.

Enter Customer Relationship Management (CRM). If you’re a marketer worth your salt, you know CRM better than most, and likely have marketing automation plugged in to make the most out of it. But what you may not have thought about is how CRM might pose a competitive threat not only to your organization, but to your entire marketing approach. Here’s why.

  1. The days of CRM being limited to marketing functions are over. Sure, CRMs aren’t all calling themselves population health platforms – yet. But most of the sophisticated ones are already capable of it and selling it (see: Evariant), and the rest are rapidly ramping up their healthcare efforts.
  2. Now that CRMs are including clinical data, marketing automation begets patient engagement. Marketing automation creates a set of rules based on the CRM data to run campaigns – and when this is applied to healthcare, a rich world emerges to enable success in at-risk payment models.
  3. Cognitive computing might be overhauling it all. We’ve begun to see new services entering the market that sure look like CRM and/or population health platforms – but hark, they’re calling themselves cognitive computing! For example, though Cognitive Scale is primarily marketed as a cognitive computing solution, it functions just like a CRM with advanced population management abilities.

Yes, I can hear you now, health IT leaders: your years of expertise in healthcare elevate you over traditional CRM vendors; your care management tools go far beyond what any marketing automation program could offer; and you’re building in machine learning tools to capture the unstructured data yourself.

And if that’s true, let’s talk about how to best tell that story and get ahead of this competitive threat. Because there are a few things going for you. Another list, perchance?

  1. For now, CRM is often still locked up in marketing. While almost all hospitals and health systems have a CRM, few of them are aware of its breadth of capabilities – and most CRMs are siloed in the marketing department, virtually invisible to the clinical and quality leadership. When hospital staff see CRM as a marketing tool, it’ll take a while for them to see it differently – although your runway is getting shorter, as more and more CRMs are going straight to the C-suite.
  2. CRM and EHR: a match not made in heaven. Population health platforms are more seasoned in pulling data from all healthcare sources into one central location. Although integration between CRMs and EHRs is certainly possible and happening already, the real-time data exchange is only in the early stages of buildout.
  3. Population health has a leg up in clinical predictive analytics. Hopefully your product team has figured out by now that cognitive computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or pick-your-category is making a big splash in healthcare. (And by the way, you need to get cracking on your differentiation there.) If you can make the case that you have both the proven healthcare track record and the future-oriented tech, you’ll have an edge against the encroaching generalist partners.

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: your competition and your category is changing constantly, and marketing (and messaging) nimbleness is key.

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