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Does Salesforce Health Cloud 'get' patient data?

When Salesforce entered the healthcare market in 2015, it not only piqued interest but also shocked observers. Is it as well positioned as it says to be the steward of patient data?

Many know Salesforce as a CRM heavyweight, but to the surprise of many, the company has entered new areas in the past year, including financial services and healthcare.

Salesforce Health Cloud, rolled out during Dreamforce 2015, aims to improve relationships between doctors and patients by addressing long-standing hurdles in healthcare legacy technology. The Health Cloud is a content aggregator that links patient data from electronic health records (EHRs) and other sources, and presents it to patients and providers in a single view. This consolidation of information gives patients, doctors, insurers and others in healthcare a way to share information without creating multiple copies that reside in various siloed locations.

But many question Salesforce's expertise in healthcare, a market governed by a raft of regulations, including data privacy requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Some are skeptical of how Salesforce can fare in this arena, while others say the industry is ripe for change, and Salesforce's track record in customer relationship management makes it poised to succeed where others have failed.

Joshua Newman, chief medical officer, Salesforce Health CloudJoshua Newman, Salesforce

Recently, SearchSalesforce talked with Dr. Joshua Newman, chief medical officer and general manager of Salesforce healthcare and life sciences, about the cloud-based CRM company's entry into the healthcare market, data concerns and why he believes the Salesforce Health Cloud is poised to succeed.

SearchSalesforce: Salesforce hasn't traditionally been a healthcare database provider. How can it be better at managing patient data than traditional healthcare vendors?

Joshua Newman: The misapprehension on the part of our market is that we're new to healthcare, but we've been playing in healthcare from the beginning of our company. Because healthcare organizations were using us to sell, we were very successful in life sciences.

For about six years, we have had a steady stream of marquee customers using Salesforce for healthcare -- City of Hope, Johns Hopkins -- and not just for sales, but for member management or physician referrals or chronic disease management. There is enough of a cadre of customers that are trustworthy and public about how they use us, so we have credibility.

We have taken the lessons and baked them into Health Cloud, which has a data model that makes it easy to connect to health data sets. Customers see that we understand the core general capabilities. We haven't seen as much doubt that we can't do that sort of thing. We see the opposite and people saying, 'Please bring us your lessons from outside healthcare. That's what we need. We need to know how to interface with multiple systems. We need to understand how to collaborate.'

What are customers reacting to that they think is lacking in traditional healthcare systems?

Newman: Everyone wants to connect to patients. They are looking for something with the flexibility and reliability to build integrations, to host HIPAA-controlled data, and to satisfy the security and privacy folks.

The features that customers want fall into four categories:

  1. Bringing data together, aggregating data and then knowing patients through data.
  2. Building one-to-one journeys in a tailored way, so everyone has the capability of having a unique program, unique workflow.
  3. The next part is using analytics, whether internal analytics, predictive analytics -- whatever kind of data -- and finding ways to get volumes of data processed is really vital. We have Wave, the Analytics Cloud, which makes the data insights available to different people.
  4. It's critical to make the information available on your phone and anywhere. Patients aren't logging in from laptops; they aren't so keen on it. It also inhibits the speed with which things can be developed. Mobile makes things faster, but it needs to be robust enough to satisfy security and privacy requirements. And, frankly, there aren't a lot of platforms that can do this and have a credible data model.

How does data security work in the Salesforce Health Cloud?

Newman: We realized people were going to have a lot of questions about data security in the Health Cloud, and we have secured it in several ways. People within the same instance -- within the same hospital, maybe -- shouldn't see the data about your patients. Maybe I'm the surgeon and you work in finance, so you shouldn't see my patients' data.

Protecting data in transit with patients is a big deal. Protecting from external people looking in is a big deal. So, there are many ways we do this to secure data.

We begin with data centers, the physical security. We have logical security, separating the database elements so that everyone's instance is separated from everyone else's. We also have two-factor authentication, for example. And because we're cloud-based, the smallest customer benefits from what the largest customer enjoys.

Communities are so critical in life sciences and healthcare. How can Chatter, your collaboration application, and your Community Cloud help?

Newman: The patient connection with communities is the most exciting thing. People don't want to log in to portals. Who wants to log in and be reminded they have to lose more weight, take their medicine or poke themselves with a needle?

For partners, caregivers, those delivering oxygen, communities are also a key tool. It takes a village to take care of people these days. Our community technology allows us to build partner networks all devoted to taking care of a patient.

For employees, the use case is clear. People can now deliver ideas back and forth, and communicate easily with each other.

And, of course, it's really critical that all of this works on mobile. More and more, people are consuming data. In healthcare, because there are so many technologies, mobile has lagged behind, but everyone wants it to work. If you can do things on mobile, you can make a big impact quickly.

How will wearables, Internet of Things-connected devices and the IoT Cloud work with Salesforce Health Cloud?

Newman: At this point, it's very early days for Thunder [the development platform underlying IoT Cloud]. Think about a knee brace that can return data on flexibility and the physical therapy progress of a patient after knee-replacement surgery. That information could be hugely valuable.

The idea is to ingest that data and make it viewable in Health Cloud?

Newman: The promise is to have Thunder native to our platform, but these are capabilities we don't have yet. Having it as integrated as it is will be a huge advantage for us.

What are some of the data integration challenges associated with bringing third-party data into Health Cloud?

Newman: It's certainly not a plug-and-play industry. It's the common bane of everyone's existence in healthcare. Everyone knows it, feels it. I am optimistic, though -- leadership, experience on how to solve these problems.

If TSA will allow me to download an app, scan my passport and jump ahead in line, of course healthcare can do it.
Joshua Newmanchief medical officer, Salesforce Health Cloud

What vexes us is the confidence and comfort of some organizations with these integrations. Until there is confidence with them, there won't be readiness to do things. People would rather have a second-rate technology than have to build the integration to use the best. But it's a moving target as the industry matures. There is also a master data management issue. Unless you can write from a flexible system like ours to a system of record like an EHR provider, it poses challenges.

How can Salesforce Health Cloud make healthcare better?

Newman: Think about improvements that you enjoy in every other sphere of your life besides healthcare. Even government is starting to make these changes. I was in the customs line coming back from Costa Rica at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta -- not a place that you expect technology to be cutting-edge. It seems like there are 10,000 people in line ahead of me. But even there, you can download an app and jump to the front of the line.

If TSA [the Transportation Security Administration] will allow me to download an app, scan my passport and jump ahead in line, of course healthcare can do it. Of course the privacy and security issues aren't too vexing.

So, to answer your question: If you want to find services in your area, maybe you have a certain kind of disease and a healthcare provider is opening a new service line that you want alerts for. Maybe you don't have to fill out a clipboard every time you go to the doctor because you fill out a survey ahead of time, or maybe a hospital can tell you about the status of the parking lot, tell you about an appointment cancellation. It's about patients, and getting economic and time benefits.

Next Steps

Salesforce Health Cloud piques industry interest -- with caveats

Health Cloud ready for industry-specific requirements

Learn more about IoT Cloud, another Salesforce cloud

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