Ever since the release of the Salesforce® Health CloudTM suite in 2015, one of the most common questions we’ve gotten about the technology solution is “What is a health cloud?” Many practitioners have a good understanding of their current tech stack and the pain points that come along with it. But despite their current technology difficulties, it’s hard for some health systems and private practices to understand how a different solution could solve their problems.
To help out, I sat down with Stephanie Ebert, Torrent Consulting’s healthcare and life sciences delivery lead. With over 8 years of consulting experience, across 3 different firms, she’s worked with numerous organizations throughout the healthcare space. As our resident expert on technology solutions in healthcare, she was happy to walk me through the ways a health cloud can benefit any practice.
Note: This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Kevin Binder: Thanks for being here! To start, could you tell me a bit about yourself and your work experience?
Stephanie Ebert: Sure! So, in terms of educational experience, I actually started in structural engineering. And it’s funny, because I never did anything with engineering professionally. But looking back, the concepts of engineering translated well to consulting. When you think about it, both are about breaking down a big problem into its parts, to make it easier to figure out. Similarly, when you don’t know an answer to something in consulting, one of the best ways to solve it is to draw a picture of it, to help you visualize or communicate it in a new way. And that’s a skill I picked up in engineering as well.
Out of college, I got a job with Accenture and spent almost 4 years there. And I remember during my first week there, one of the people leading an onboarding session was talking about why she moved into the healthcare space — about how she was fascinated by the data challenges it presented — and I said to myself, “That sounds really interesting.” But then, it wasn’t until my last project with Accenture that I actually got to work in healthcare [laughs].
KB: Oh, really?
SE: Yeah, I was working with a regional healthcare payer here in Michigan, getting to know that market. After some time there, I moved to a smaller company because the big consulting lifestyle no longer fit with what I wanted, with the travel and long hours and all.
The new company I went to specialized in healthcare operations, strategy, and facilities planning. So, I spent a lot of time in the guts of hospitals — central sterile processing rooms, ORs, emergency departments and loading docks — learning about their processes and helping them figure out how to make the best use of their spaces. I mean, I spent a lot of time in loading docks, especially [laughs]. I remember, for one project, we mapped out a hospital’s laundry processes, how they dealt with their dirty linen and got it swapped in for new bedsheets and things like that.
In short, I learned a lot about the provider side of the healthcare space there.
KB: I bet. And then you came to Torrent after that, right?
SE: Yup, after about two years. First day back from maternity leave [laughs].
KB: You’ve mentioned this a bit already, but why are you passionate about tech consulting in the healthcare space?
SE: I think that most healthcare organizations would admit that they’re not at the cutting edge of technology. And that’s not their fault — there are good reasons for that. Patient safety and privacy come first, so they often can’t take the risk of adopting new technologies early.
But despite that, there are a lot of opportunities for technology in this space. Technology has the power to increase efficiencies, improve treatments, improve outcomes. For example, I recently read this article about the possibilities of big data and cloud technologies in healthcare — how, by putting all of this data on the cloud, we can use that to start understanding unseen trends, and actually discover treatments for currently incurable diseases.
KB: That’s really interesting. And that segues nicely into my next question. As you might know, Forrester named Salesforce’s healthcare offerings one of the market-leading enterprise health clouds. But that kind of begs the question, what is a health cloud?
SE: The way I see it, Salesforce Health Cloud is a cloud system for managing your patient relationships, whereas EMRs are more about managing patient records.
If you think about Salesforce’s flagship product — Sales Cloud — as a parallel, that tool is all about tracking the customer relationships in your sales world. Who are your customers? What activities have they done with you? Things like that. So when we talk about Health Cloud, it’s the same idea, but you’re replacing the word “customer” with “patient.” It’s about tracking who your patients are, who are the other important caretakers and relationships in their lives, what activities are they taking to improve their health, things like that.
KB: You touched on this in the answer you just gave, but why does a healthcare practice need a health cloud like Salesforce’s? What does it offer them that their EMR or EHR, for example, doesn’t already?
SE: I would put it this way: Think about the last time you went to the doctor. You probably sat in an examination room and had someone come in with a laptop or tablet. Then, they sat there and asked you a whole bunch of questions: “Are you still at the same pharmacy?” “Any change in your medication?” And as you answered those questions, they’re typing, typing, typing — probably without looking at you all that much.
Then, the doctor comes in and asks you a lot of questions, too, and a lot of them are the same. And again, they’re typing as you answer the questions. Now, I’m not saying that all practitioners do this, because some are very good at giving you more face-to-face time, but for the most part, their current technology is making them do that. They’re asking these questions because those are the fields they need to fill out in their EMR, they need to check that box or fill in that answer for each patient.
And if they don’t fill in that information during the appointment, it means they need to spend more time that evening filling in those notes. My sister is a physician assistant, for example, and she regularly has to spend time on the weekends catching up on her notes in her EMR.
So, to answer your question, a health cloud helps physicians and other care team members focus more on patient goals, care plans and progress. The idea is to supplement the necessary steps that the EMR requires with more patient-focused interaction that will lead to better engagement, patient satisfaction, and ultimately, better outcomes. Because it’s more relationship based, it’s designed to facilitate more meaningful interactions, instead of ones that focus on forms and records.
KB: That makes sense. But, on the note of other technologies, I have to ask: I’m sure a reader who’s a physician might be saying to themselves, “Look, I already have an EMR, I already have a scheduler, I already have a back office system, and so on. So, the last thing I want to do is add another tech system to the mix.” What would be your response to that?
SE: Yeah, I completely get it because I had the same question when it first came out. And so, I asked my sister — the PA — about it too, and she shared some of my hesitations about that piece.
But as I learned more about Health Cloud, I realized that the answer here comes down to integration and division of responsibility. Health Cloud will probably never replace your EMR, but if you have the two systems talking, then it lets you give the right people access to the information they need.
And that’s where the division of responsibility comes in. You’ll still have some people working out of your EMR, like when your physician assistant is meeting with patients, for example. But then you might have a care plan coordinator in Health Cloud, because their work is more focused on relationships and long-term goals. And then, if you have the two systems integrated correctly, you can send the right information from your EMR to Health Cloud, so that care plan coordinator can see the data they need. Like, they can see that this patient had an appointment scheduled on this day and that it was completed. They can see all the details that they need to without having to navigate through the EMR, giving them the necessary end-to-end view of that patient’s history.
So long as you’re sharing the right information between systems, it will actually save your teams time instead of adding more tech issues to their plates.
KB: And I’m sure you could say the same thing about the scheduler and other systems, right? That with the right set-up, you can integrate all of these systems into Health Cloud so they’re all talking to each other and sharing information correctly across your practice?
SE: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, as we’re seeing more third-party apps for the Health Cloud platform on the AppExchangeTM, they’re addressing a lot of these technology needs. For example, there are now scheduler apps that sit between Health Cloud and your EMR that allow you to seamlessly schedule appointments and send the right information to the right system. There are also IPaaS providers, like Redox, who partner with us and our clients to facilitate those integrations among the various systems. That level of integration and ease of use will only grow as people get used to the new platform and build more solutions that work with it.
KB: Sure. And to wrap all of this up, let’s say that I’m a decision-maker at a healthcare practice. What are some common use cases for a heath cloud that my practice could benefit from?
SE: Yeah, we actually see a lot of common use cases for the technology. Many of them relate to data visibility around patients and members and how we can connect with them.
One of the big ones is the ability to create care plans to track outcomes over a longer period of time. A pretty common example is the smoking cessation plan. If you have a patient that wants to quit smoking, you can set up a detailed plan with them that walks through all of the things they should be doing to improve their chances of quitting over time. And that makes it easier for them to manage their care when they’re not in your practice — because they can have access to these plans, too, if you’ve enabled a patient portal through a Salesforce Community.
Similarly, it also allows you to track other care team members. If one of your patients receives a home visit from a nurse, for example, then that nurse can log that visit into the Health Cloud system, for all other members of the patient’s care team to see. Everyone from doctors to other caregivers to family members can log in and see that information.
KB: Depending on their security access, right?
SE: Of course.
KB: Any other common use cases?
SE: Well, if you add something like Marketing CloudTM to the system, that gives you the ability to create targeted patient journeys consisting of emails, text notifications, you name it. Not only can you send patients helpful information that’s specific to their condition, but it builds that connection by managing a steady stream of communication with them when they’re outside of your office — which is what this is all about, right?
And I’ll also say that the other common thing we see, when it comes to running a practice as a business, is that Health Cloud helps a lot with managing patient referrals. Because, when you think about a lot of specialty clinics, most of their business comes from primary care providers that are sending patients their way. And so, these clinics have their physician liaisons that are meeting with PCPs and handing them marketing materials to drum up new referrals. Something like Health Cloud can allow these liaisons to track their visits to these MDs more easily. From there, you can compare that to the resulting referrals coming from these other practitioners, so you can actually understand the ROI of these outreach activities.
KB: Makes sense. And finally, is there anything I didn’t ask about this, that I should have?
SE: Well, of course, there’s a whole other side of this. The Health Cloud for PayersTM aspect, which helps insurance providers manage relationships with their members on cloud technology. But in terms of the provider side, that covers it all pretty well, I think. Anything about the payer side we can cover in a different article.
KB: Yes, absolutely. Stay tuned for next time [laughs].