Use of customer relationship management (CRM) systems is becoming more widespread as progressive medical labs and pathology groups use them to boost service levels and win greater market share

If there is a single “big trend” in pathology and clinical laboratory informatics today, it is the acquisition and use of software that makes it possible to access a wealth of data in real time. This trend is due directly to the need for medical laboratories to cut costs while sustaining and improving quality in every aspect of lab testing.

One part of this trend for increased use of real-time analytics can be seen in the decision by some innovative clinical lab organizations to invest in a customer relationship management software system (CRM). These systems make it possible for lab managers to use the CRM to monitor a wide range of activities, particularly in tracking relations with client physicians. Some CRMs also can report data on a variety of medical and pathology laboratory performance measures every hour of every day.

A handful of hospital and health system laboratory outreach programs have recognized how their use of a CRM gives them a competitive advantage in the lab testing marketplace. These labs use their CRMs to boost productivity and profitability of their outreach sales and marketing efforts.

In general, however, the primary goal of these robust second-generation CRMs is to help pathologists and medical laboratory managers monitor lab operations and workflow more effectively, particularly as they relate to a lab’s outpatient and outreach clients. While these systems are developed to report data on lab operations, they also can gather and report data on sales efforts.

Mid America Clinical Laboratories is a regional lab company in Indianapolis, Ind., that acquired and installed a first-generation CRM to improve how it managed the two different sources of lab test referrals. “MACL generates a majority of its business from managing hospital laboratories in Indiana,” stated Mark Ballard, MACL’s Chief Information Officer. “The rest of MACL’s business is traditional clinical lab work for clinics and physicians.

“Every hospital laboratory understands that the inpatient testing needs of client hospitals are significantly different than the outreach testing needs of office-based physicians,” noted Ballard. “These are different clients with different service requirements and, for our lab to succeed, we recognized that having real-time data inputs on service levels, workflow issues, and other factors would allow us to do a better job of exceeding the expectations of our clients, be they hospitals or office-based physicians.”

MACL Sought Increased CRM Functionality

MACL acquired its first-generation CRM in 2004, specifically to support continuous improvement of its customer service performance. “As we began to work with this CRM, we began to appreciate the value of having access to key sources of data without having to wait for reports that formerly were produced at the end of each month,” Ballard recalled. “Immediate access to data enabled each area of the lab to monitor its service levels and intervene quickly as needed. The sales team was the primary beneficiary of the original CRM.”

In recent years, the management team decided it was time to upgrade to a second-generation CRM. “At this point, we were experienced CRM users and we wanted a more robust system,” he continued. “We wanted a full-featured CRM that would allow our clinical lab staff to monitor a wide variety of operations within and outside the lab. The earlier program was strictly limited to managing sales. It had no ability to collect, store, and report our lab’s clinical patient information.”

Mark Ballard (above), MACL’s Chief Information Officer, says that for today’s labs to be successful they need “real-time information to track workflow and activities across the full spectrum of lab functions” and that having this information “allows managers and staff to intervene in a timely fashion to sustain superior quality and service.” (Photo copyright: Mid America Clinical Laboratories.)

Mark Ballard (above), MACL’s Chief Information Officer, says that for today’s labs to be successful they need “real-time information to track workflow and activities across the full spectrum of lab functions” and that having this information “allows managers and staff to intervene in a timely fashion to sustain superior quality and service.” (Photo copyright: Mid America Clinical Laboratories.)

Because of its experience working with a first-generation CRM, the lab team already understood how to use the basic functions of a CRM to improve service levels. “In planning our upgrade, we wanted extra functionality from our new system,” Ballard said. “One important feature for us was a CRM that could store the HL7 messages from our lab test results and allow us to associate current and past events with those messages. That was a big selling point.

“Another important goal was to acquire a CRM that would help our customer service and our sales staffs to find information quickly without having to go into either of our two laboratory information systems,” he added. “To be successful today, clinical laboratories need real-time information to track workflow and activities across the full spectrum of lab functions. Having this information allows managers and staff to intervene in a timely fashion to sustain superior quality and service.”

Following an RFP process, the lab team chose to change vendors and selected the Healthcare Relationship Management Cloud from The decision was based, in part, on this platform’s ability to integrate clinical information and to connect that information with the two different laboratory information systems (LISs) MACL uses, said Ballard and MACL Sales Director DeeDee Rivas.

“One reason we chose this healthcare-specific CRM is because it could incorporate clinical feeds from our two LISs into a single platform,” Ballard commented. “That single platform combines both types of clients into one view. Thus, every lab test result that comes out of either LIS goes right into hc1, making it possible for us to monitor operations and workflow throughout our laboratory.”

New CRM Improves Client Retention and Market Share

One under-appreciated benefit of a healthcare-specific CRM designed to support clinical laboratory testing is that it can help lab staff improve client retention while also supporting the sales team as they win new clients and expand market share. “We know how to use features of hc1 to simplify data collection for our sales team so that the sales reps can be more productive out in the field,” Rivas said.

“Our sales and field service reps find the new CRM simple to use,” she added. “Most reps currently use it to manage existing relationships, but we are exploring expanding our use to help generate new business as well.”

When managing an existing lab outreach account, a MACL sales professional can use the healthcare-specific CRM to identify any problems the clinic or physicians’ offices may have that day with lab work on order. “Because they can see any trouble spots with the account, they’re not walking blind into a medical practice,” Rivas commented. “Instead they are knowledgeable about service issues and ready to discuss solutions. Physicians and their staff appreciate this ability and it is a competitive differentiation for MACL in the communities we service.


“In addition, the new CRM allows the sales staff to work closely with the ordering physicians to discuss how to optimize the mix of lab tests they order for patients,” Rivas explained. “The hc1 Healthcare Relationship Cloud lets sales reps see physician utilization at a glance. That information is useful because so much of what the sales staff discusses with physicians today involves quality metrics, treatment guidelines, and recommendations on how to better use lab tests to improve patient outcomes.

“Seeing which tests individual physicians order allows our sales staff to consult with those physicians about their test-ordering patterns and how they might order the most appropriate tests to benefit their patients,” Rivas explained. “Having so much information in hand means our sales team can walk into any meeting with a client account and be very well prepared with a solid understanding of what that account needs.

“Here’s just one example. As we all know, colorectal cancer screening is very important when managing the health of any population,” Rivas said. “Our lab can add value by collaborating with a clinic or a physician in identifying patients who aren’t getting colonoscopies, to help ensure that these patients get, at a minimum, at least one of the clinical tests for colorectal cancer screening that our lab offers. By doing that, we help clinicians meet the clinical recommendations and quality metrics for their members and patients.”

New CRM Generates Business Intelligence

Ballard added that a healthcare-specific CRM is also an adept business intelligence solution. MACL is now considering how to use its new CRM as a business-forecasting tool. “This is a stepwise progression in how our lab team is learning to use the real-time analytics capabilities of hc1,” he said. “We know that as healthcare transforms our laboratory we must be ahead of these changes, and that requires detailed data to inform strategic planning and the successive waves of operational improvements necessary to be a valued clinical partner for our client hospitals and office-based physicians.”

Clinical laboratory managers who are considering how to use real time analytics and CRM solutions in their labs will find much useful information and insights within this special White Paper, “3 Ways Labs Can Increase Revenue and Gain a Competitive Advantage in the Marketplace. (Copy and paste this URL in your browser:

There are many predictions that clinical labs and pathology groups will see more pressure to cut costs while at the same time boosting the quality of their lab testing services. Thus, it makes sense for lab managers to consider the value that use of real-time analytics and a CRM can bring to a lab’s daily operations and ability to meet the expectations of its parent hospital, as well as the physicians and patients it serves.

—Joe Burns

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