Salesforce Communities App Speeds Patient Assistance

Nonprofit Health Leads connects hospital hospital patients with social services faster using cloud-based collaboration app built with Salesforce tool.

David F Carr, Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

October 3, 2013

4 Min Read

7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement

7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement

7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Many of the poorest patients coming into a hospital or health clinic need a prescription for more than just medication -- they might also need to be prescribed food or shelter.

Established more than 15 years ago, Health Leads puts college volunteers to work matching patients with other community services they need in order to get well, and now the whole effort is being organized around a Web portal built with Salesforce Communities, the product that makes it possible to embed Chatter social collaboration and Salesforce CRM functionality in other websites. The creation of the application, called Client Connect, was supported by grants from the Salesforce Foundation and the JPB Foundation and also included custom development on the platform.

The application for registering clients referred by a physician replaced a couple of different databases the organization previously used, said Karen Tirozzi, VP of research and development. The one for tracking social service resources was "kind of homegrown," originally developed by a group at the University of Chicago, she said, while the database for tracking clients was originally intended for tracking research data and was ultimately an awkward match for her organization's needs.

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The move to the Salesforce platform allowed the group to "take two disparate systems and bring them together on one platform, so we can work with our advocates no matter what university they're at, or what hospital they're at," she said. A before-and-after study of advocate work habits also showed the new system made the process more efficient, shrinking the time required for data input from about 20 minutes to about eight minutes, she said. "In most cases, they do it while they are actually sitting with a client."

Health Leads supervisory employees who are embedded at each hospital it serves also get a more complete overview of how the volunteers are performing through a dashboard included in the application, noted Zach Goldstein, director of systems and technology for Health Leads. The data gathered by the system has also made it easier to identify productive work habits.

For example, they found that the success rate for getting patients enrolled in a recommended service increased by 18% to 23% if the advocate got in touch at least two times in the first two weeks following a visit. "That means making that call and connecting, not just attempting it," Goldstein added.

Often, patients need a little extra help and encouragement to fill out application forms correctly and get enrolled for a particular service, he said. "It can be surprisingly daunting to access some of these benefits."

Working with Salesforce Communities, Goldstein said he was able to produce a custom-branded website but at the same time "got a lot of functionality where we didn't have to go off and write a bunch of our own custom code."

The application consists of a series of forms for entering and looking up data. In addition to tracking contact information, Client Connect keeps track of how often different social service agencies have proven helpful at fulfilling client needs, which in turn helps advocates make better decisions about where to direct people.

Client Connect also gives the volunteer advisors the option to use Chatter to ask questions of a supervisor or log issues that don't fit neatly into the form fields, Goldstein said. Even though Health Leads works with support services rather than providing medical services per se, the fact that its clients are hospital patients makes it important that Salesforce meets the standards for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) data security. "Email is not a secure medium under HIPAA, but the Chatter function allows us to keep that captured within the environment."

At least initially, Chatter is configured so advocates can communicate with their managers, rather than with each other. Tirozzi said she does want to open up collaboration between the advocates as well and eventually explore the possibilities of communicating with clients online or through text messages. "We tried to build this application in the most basic way possible first, instead of building out all the bells and whistles," she said.

Healthleads community

Healthleads community

Healthleads community site

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr or Google+. His book Social Collaboration For Dummies is scheduled for release in October 2013.

About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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