Salesforce Debuts Health Cloud, A Solution For Managing Patient Relationships

Salesforce extended its industry-leading CRM portfolio Monday with the launch of Health Cloud, a new offering that treats patients like customers.

The health-care-focused solution is intended to help primary care providers, insurers and life sciences companies improve their relationships with patients, and to give them all tools to collaborate when delivering care, Joshua Newman, Salesforce's chief medical officer, told CRN.

Salesforce has effectively been in the health-care business for a long time, Newman said, but Health Cloud will help the channel build and offer unique solutions that focus on relationships, not records.

[Related: Salesforce Growth Slightly Accelerated In Q4, Driven By Nine-Digit Deals And Expanding Portfolio]

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Health Cloud manages the patient relationship from a single console with features like a timeline view of visits and treatments, diagrams of an extended care team, and family information. The cloud can be integrated with medical records systems and devices.

Newman said Health Cloud was born from Salesforce's observations of how the industry was using its existing products.

First, health-care providers started putting medical records into Salesforce's clouds, then the payers -- primarily insurers -- started doing the same. Finally, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, facing greater competition, "realized they had to start providing services with their molecules and devices" and turned to Salesforce.

"All of them were putting patient data into Salesforce, and that got us excited," Newman told CRN.

Evolving regulations, heightened consumer expectations and a new wave of competition motivated Salesforce to develop a targeted solution.

Health Cloud acts as an "engagement layer" on top of records systems and medical devices widely used to deliver care, coordinate treatment, conduct at-home monitoring, and handle billing, reimbursements and payment processing. It's not much different from what Salesforce has been doing for more than a decade with business systems like ERP, inventory and business management.

"It's really the same answer everywhere," Newman said. "It's about bringing people and data together to solve problems."

But existing electronic health-care records don't make it easy to achieve that goal.

"They were built for a different purpose," he said. "What they're good at is not what we're talking about."

Health Cloud is being released with five inaugural partners that have been working with, and building on top of, the product for several months: Accenture, Deloitte, PwC, Persistent Systems and Silverline.

Matt Gretczko, health-care practice director at Silverline, a Salesforce partner with headquarters in New York, told CRN the channel can play three roles in bringing Health Cloud to market: implementing the solution, extending it by developing unique functionality using the platform, and integrating external data sources.

"Health care has finally come around to the understanding that the patient is the customer," Gretczko said. "And this allows you to drive more effective and smarter patient management at large volumes."

Health Cloud offers a "holistic patient view" that promises more effective care, he said.

Most legacy systems were built for billing purposes, according to Gretczko. "They're not user-friendly and not meant for managing the patient journey."

The Health Cloud model lends itself to solving challenges faced by stand-alone hospitals, integrated delivery networks and all fashion of medical practices, such as those that provide chronic care management in multiple facilities and settings.

Tony Smith, senior vice president of the Salesforce practice at Pune, India-based Persistent Systems, told CRN the global systems integrator worked closely with Salesforce to build Health Cloud, and now is leveraging it as a platform to develop a broader set of solutions.

"We worked with them very much around 360-degree collaboration with patients," Smith told CRN. "There's still a piece to be done to extend the product and that's what we're focusing on now."

Persistent has been delivering a similar solution for two years, built on Salesforce's Sales and Service clouds, Smith said.

Jim Rogers, director of the Salesforce practice at Persistent, became proficient in using Salesforce as a customer in the health-care field.

"For 10 years, I built on Sales Cloud and Service Cloud," Rogers told CRN. "Now we're starting from ground zero, creating everything that’s health-care-related for patients and providers."

Health Cloud gets partners "50 percent higher than they would have if they started with the standard platform," he said.

Persistent is building solutions for population health management, he said, "taking a patient, holding their hand and engaging them with their entire experience with the health system."

Health Cloud makes it possible for patients to actively engage in their own health care by facilitating remote monitoring, dispersal of educational material, and connectivity between primary providers and care coordinators, he said.

The solution creates a collaborative environment between internal and external caregivers, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses, administrators and the patients themselves.

While some of its partners have implemented similar solutions using Salesforce as a platform, the San Francisco-based CRM vendor started developing Health Cloud less than a year ago, Newman said. The pilot release was announced in September.

"Fears and drama around integration in health care are starting to dissipate," Newman said, and a lot of companies, including a new crop of startups, are approaching medical records in a new way.