Salesforce is opening a can of snakes with its new Health Cloud, which became generally available last week. Having worked in the healthcare software industry for many years in the last century, I have mixed feelings about this announcement. Most of my feelings involve a sigh of relief that an innovative new company is taking on healthcare software at last. But part of me thinks this could be a long and expensive slog.
I’ve seen the healthcare industry (not the software part) up close recently as aging parents and in-laws make greater use of the system. My overall impression is that CRM could learn a great deal from healthcare providers about how to treat customers. Understanding how professionals provision healthcare is a lesson in understanding moments of truth. At the same time though, healthcare seems constrained by its software.
People who deliver care aren’t profit motivated though some have to keep an eye on costs. Nonetheless, the industry generally holds itself to very high standards for outreach and communication and the Health Cloud will only add to the ability to understand patients’ moments of truth and to be there for them.
The thing that leaves me querulous is the healthcare software industry itself. A lot has changed since I worked in that world but perhaps not enough. When I worked there, healthcare software was a relatively closed market with unique standards, programming languages and even operating systems and databases. It was unavoidable. There was very little money available to buy software and many institutions built their own systems.
Much attention gets paid to the systems that handle accounting, billing and payments, and such, but the lab systems, scheduling systems, medical records systems along with their integration with other systems and machines like auto-analyzers were all written in specialized programming languages called MUMPS or MAGIC. Many still are. For instance one of the most popular medical records systems on the market provides an old-fashioned “green screen” interface that looks like something out of the Star Trek TV show.
Now, I should reiterate that I’ve been out of that business for a long time but what I’ve observed is that a lot hasn’t changed. Healthcare software is a classic walled garden. So when I see Salesforce going after that market, I wonder if that’s the best use of their effort and resources.
Now, on the flip side, the Health Cloud is not simply new software, it is a rethink of the provider-patient relationship and it has a lot to offer. The Health Cloud can do many things that providers want and need that their walled garden providers can’t deliver. The combination of multiple platform resources including mobile, analytic, social, and outbound calling, to name a few, will enable providers to deliver better treatments and to be more inside of patients’ moments of truth.
A trivial example might be reminding people to take their medicine. You might think that taking medicine on time would be easy but when you deal with the elderly you see new challenges. It’s physically impossible to remind every patient to take medicines that have been prescribed but through automation that might include a simple nudge on social media or communication through a smartphone or a wearable device, compliance can skyrocket. Also, modern cloud technology can do much to enable practitioners to collect patient data and to foresee problems and head them off.
Mobility might be the greatest medical advance of this young century, too. A doctor with a mobile device and appropriate software can look up and retrieve patient data, and records and that doctor can also access databases containing information about drug interactions, rare diseases, and much more. A tool like the Health Cloud is essential for making some of this work.
Health Cloud is a good example of how the many disparate pieces of platform technology can come together and leverage other new technologies such as wearable devices to support advanced processes that deliver order of magnitude performance improvements in healthcare delivery.
So what I am seeing in the Health Cloud is the beginning of significant innovation in healthcare around the patient and that’s really good. But I fret over the effort it will take to penetrate the walled garden. But if any company can do it, I’d bet Salesforce can. They did something similar about 16 years ago to business software.