Salesforce jumps into healthcare with a tailored cloud platform

It's all about managing patient relationships, the company says

Sales and marketing have long been Salesforce's proverbial bread and butter, but on Wednesday the CRM giant branched out in a new direction with a cloud platform tailored specifically for healthcare providers and patient data.

Aiming to help healthcare organizations manage their relationships with patients, the company's new Salesforce Health Cloud promises providers a complete view of each patient as well as the ability to engage them better across caregiver networks. Overall, the goal is to help providers make smarter patient-care decisions, the company said.

"We've been in healthcare from the beginning," said Joshua Newman, the company's chief medical officer and general manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences.

Originally, however, that mostly meant helping companies in the healthcare industry offer sales and service for medical devices or pharmaceuticals, for example.

Then, roughly eight years ago, "something radical happened," Newman explained.

Namely, ancillary services providers such as nursing homes or oxygen providers -- organizations that have long had a strong sales function -- began using Salesforce's vertical software for patient data as well, often tailoring it to suit their specific needs. Familiarity with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other legal requirements soon followed, he said, making it a manageable leap for Salesforce to begin catering to hospitals and doctor's offices.

"They're really just like multinational businesses," Newman said. "We've had enough time and validation, and we're seeing the same kinds of use cases we've seen in other industries."

Built on Salesforce's Service Cloud offering, the new Health Cloud product is the software-as-a-service provider's first healthcare-specific offering and its second industry-specific product so far; the first, unveiled just last week, targets financial advisors.

In general, the company aims to help providers modernize their capabilities to meet the expectations of tech-savvy consumers as well as coordinate better with other providers and offer more personalized treatment.

"You can't do these things with existing technology," Newman said. In a climate often dominated by paper charts or Excel spreadsheets, for example, "you can't send a text message, you can't have a collaborative conversation, you can't extend to new needs in healthcare."

Historically, healthcare technology's focus has followed three "R's," he noted. First, it was on revenue management, then it moved to medical records. Next, in the wake of regulations such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and outcomes-based reimbursements, it will be about relationship management, he said.

Toward that end, the new platform offers a complete, integrated view of patient demographic, lifestyle and health information, including current conditions and medications, scheduled appointments and lab results. Data is populated from multiple sources, including electronic medical records, medical devices and wearables, and it's available across devices.

Customizable metrics and dashboards help providers stay focused on what's important, and providers can search and sort data on the fly. A timeline view reveals a patient’s progression, while a Patient Caregiver Map highlights household members as well as all providers and specialists involved in a patient’s care.

"You can see who inside the hospital has been working with this patient, and you can also bring in people from the outside, such as a spouse or daughter, for collaboration," Newman explained.

The software automatically alerts caregivers to time-sensitive issues such as missed appointments. It also taps Salesforce's Chatter social networking tool for conversation and collaboration.

Development partners include Philips, Accenture, Deloitte, PwC and GE Healthcare.

Salesforce Health Cloud helps healthcare providers adhere to compliance standards such as HIPAA using Salesforce Shield, a set of built-in Salesforce1 Platform services that includes Field Audit Trail, Platform Encryption, Data Archive and Event Monitoring. The software is slated for general availability in February 2016. Pricing will be announced at that time.

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