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Using AI in CRM: How to Make Customer Relationship Management Work in Healthcare

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   March 01, 2023

Virtua Health is using AI technology to fine-tune its messages to patients, giving them access to the right information at the right time.

One of the more popular current uses of AI in healthcare is to improve marketing and messaging campaigns. This includes getting the word out to the right population that they’re good candidates for a specific healthcare service.

Virtua Health, for example, has been using AI for several years to refine engagement campaigns. One such campaign targeted people with or at a risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Working with digital health company Actium Health, the 400-site New Jersey health system created a messaging campaign that increased patient engagement and scheduled check-ups and generated roughly $800,000 in revenues.

The health system is also using the technology to target teens and young adults in need of bariatric surgery, a tricky and often underserved population that would just as easily steer clear of healthcare if the message wasn't right. And while one recent study finds that more teens are getting the surgery, experts say this service could save many more lives.

"There's an art and a science to marketing," says Ryan Younger, Virtua Health's vice president of marketing. "You want to connect the right people to the right information that they would find most helpful, so that they can choose their own path. It's not easy."

Whereas healthcare organizations traditionally send out mailers to targeted demographic groups, the advent of AI technology has made the process much more efficient. Using algorithms that comb through claims and EHR data (and, more recently, social determinants of health), health systems, health plans, and CRM companies can drill down to specific people and offer personalized messages.

For Virtua, this platform led to the scheduling of more than 470 bariatric surgeries and 8,500 scheduled appointments to related services, which in turn boosted revenues. More important, it helped the health system get in front of patients who needed access to care, and who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten that care.

"There are a lot of challenges to accessing healthcare, especially in underserved groups," Younger points out. "This helps us to [address] health equity as well."

While emphasizing that the platform gives patients the resources they need to make their own healthcare decisions, Younger notes that the information is more personal than a generic mailer or message. And where those traditional campaigns were lucky to get a 20% open rate, newer outreach efforts are pushing that number even higher. Simply put, the more personal the message, the greater chance that it will engage the reader and make an impact.

"We want to get in front of people [and see that] they're interested in the message," he says. "I know it's still a pleasant surprise when that works … but we're getting better at this."

Younger says the value of these programs goes beyond extra services and revenues. Better engagement means that patients are getting the care they need or the resources they need to improve their health and wellness. That translates to improved clinical outcomes, as well as fewer acute care needs and hospitalizations later on.

Aside from cardiovascular health and bariatric surgeries, Virtua has used the platform to reach out to patients at high risk for breast cancer, a campaign that can save lives through early detection and diagnosis. Younger says the opportunities are plenty, ranging from bone and joint care to kidney care to cancer and behavioral health services.

"Bariatrics is such an important issue because it's a long patient journey," Younger says. "It can take more than a year, with a lot of requirements and choices to make. It's so important that we get the right information in front of them as soon as possible [so that they] can make those decisions."

"It's all about empowering people," he adds.

“There's an art and a science to marketing. You want to connect the right people to the right information that they would find most helpful, so that they can choose their own path. It's not easy.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


Healthcare organizations and digital health companies are using AI technology to improve customer relationship management processes in marketing and messaging campaigns.

The technology combs through various sources, including the EHR and claims data, to identify care concerns and give patients access to personalized resources.

Virtua Health has been using this strategy to improve care for cardiovascular patients, teens in need of bariatric surgery, and those with an increased risk of breast cancer.

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