IT systems are usually focused on extracting maximum financial benefit from a given business. But once in a while an application emerges that helps improve the quality of healthcare, which is precisely what happened at VitalAire recently.
It all began with the purchase of an application intended to boost sales. Like many businesses, VitalAire had difficulty effectively managing the efforts of its sales force and turning good prospects into real sales.
Margi Bollman, trainer at VitalAire, implies that the main problem was the common disconnect between sales expectations and sales reality. “All our sales are based on scripts that we receive from doctors for the treatment of their patients,” she explains. “It’s easy to see a doctor who is not seeing patients. You can walk into his consulting rooms and get to see him. So you’d have reps with a really good call rate but you’re not seeing a response in the business.”
Enter Tracer CQM. According to company director Cobus van Graan, the CQM stands for Customer Quality Management. “We measure three levels of quality: quality of customer base; quality of knowledge about your customers; and the quality of the interactions that you have with your customers,” he says.
No matter what industry or business, he says, the sales principle stays the same. “It’s about identifying the right customers and knowing exactly how to build relationships and add value to the point where they give you the business.”
And as many a sales manager knows, it’s not just frequency of contact that delivers sales. It’s also about whether or not the sales people are seeing the right people and whether they are adding value every single time they make contact with a client.
Without getting into too much technical detail, Tracer CQM’s application is based on a single shared database hosted at Verizon. Salespeople in the field are then equipped with mobile phones able to locally replicate that database, or at least the portion of the database that concerns them.
According to Van Graan, there are two views on the database: the one is through a fully functional web application; and the other is a pared-down view that provides salespeople with information on their specific customers. Updates on either platform are automatically replicated whenever the salesperson synchronises his or her phone.
The information relayed from the field could be telephone call logging information, text messages or e-mail, all of which is available for viewing by management the instant it has been replicated.
“We track phone calls. If you make a call to a customer [the system] even knows when you phone his office, his home or wherever. It’s already logged. E-mails and [text messages] sent straight from Tracer are obviously part of your database as well as incoming e-mails and [text messages]. It goes through the phone and we pick it up and pull it in [to the database].
The salesperson never has to load up to 60 percent of communication with clients because it happens automatically. We know sales people hate admin,” quips Van Graan.
The improvements in productivity – and the sales success – that Tracer CQM brought to VitalAire’s business set off a few enquiring minds, wondering whether the technology could be deployed to assist healthcare workers in performing their duties.
Bollman explains: “We started off with the sales and marketing because ... we had a huge problem trying to get sales people to give us reports, making sure that they were seeing the right doctors, making sure that we’re seeing all the doctors in that area.”
She says that while Tracer CQM solved that problem, VitalAire was beginning to face a serious challenge from another area: “Our backend clinical program ... to report on doctors’ patients was getting to the point where it was ready to topple. It had reached the end of its natural life and we decided that we needed ... another program.”
And so, with development assistance from Tracer CQM, VitalAire embarked on the development of a brand-new system using similar technology – cellphones, GPRS and a central database.
Van Graan explains that homecare advisers now visit patients with data from previous visits recorded on their phones. “Then they fill in the new observation information [pulse, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, etc.] ... and it comes directly through to the central database,” he says.
While the full benefits of the new system cannot be quantified at this stage, Bollman says the indications are extremely positive because it has literally shaved days off the previous system, which relied on faxes from home care advisers being captured in a central database.
It has eliminated the single biggest problem in the older system – lost or misplaced faxes containing critical patient information. At the same time, the system has dramatically reduced the administrative load on healthcare advisers in the field as well as in the back office. The reporting process has also been greatly improved.
“We’ve been live now about four or five months [at the time of writing] so it’s still going to take a bit of time to be able to see the full impact. But just simply the fact that they’re not running backwards and forwards having to resend faxes, looking for documents that they can’t find, they have more time to spend with the patients,” says Bollman.
And that is the bottom line.