Salesforce looks to help health insurers be more like the best consumer companies

  • Salesforce is launching a new suite of software tools dubbed Health Cloud for Payers to help health insurers engage their members the way the best consumer firms do.
  • The program aims to help insurers integrate claims data, health records and customer interaction tools in one platform.
  • Some analysts have speculated that the cloud software giant's next move might be to acquire a health IT firm to help build its own analytics.
Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce.

For years, the talk in health care has been about the need to be more consumer-oriented and responsive to patients.

Salesforce is launching a new suite of software tools to help health insurers engage their members the way the best consumer firms do.

"Health care companies … want to act like other businesses. They want to be successful the way that they see how other giant companies are being successful," said Dr. Joshua Newman, Salesforce chief medical officer.

The program is dubbed Health Cloud for Payers. It aims to help insurers integrate claims data, health records and customer interaction tools in one platform. The program is designed to make it easier to provide patients with things like pre-authorization for a surgical procedure or real-time information on whether a claim has been paid.

"It is providing a seamless experience so that when you call they don't ask you questions. They say, 'Hi Bertha, how's your foot feeling?' – they know who you are. They understand you," Newman said.

For Medicare Advantage insurers especially, providing a better experience can make a big difference in the ratings their health plans receive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; customer satisfaction is one of the factors that's used to determine ratings.

Salesforce already counts Aetna, Anthem, Cigna and Humana among insurer customers using its Health Cloud platform, which was launched two years ago. It has also partnered with UnitedHealth Group's Optum Insight unit and electronic health records firm Cerner on integrating data analytics into the platform, to help insurer clients gain more insight into customer claims and engagement.

Some analysts have speculated that the cloud software giant's next move might be to acquire a health IT firm to help build its own analytics. While not specifically addressing the speculation about a potential bid for Athena, Newman dispelled the notion that Salesforce would need to do an electronic records deal to build its health-care business.

A potential target: electronic health records firm Athenahealth, which announced last month it would explore a sale.

"I don't necessarily think it's something that we need to have; … we don't need to have a doctor ordering a medication with Salesforce," Newman said, adding "we're happy to let others do it."

"We have the right architecture ... when it comes to trying to put together these things in ways that help people solve problems," he said.

Salesforce will be announcing the new Health Cloud platform for payers Thursday at the American Health Insurance Plans industry conference in San Diego.

CLARIFICATION: Salesforce's chief medical officer did not specifically address analyst speculation about a possible acquisition; that was not clearly stated in an earlier version of this story.