Some hospitals are using a "customer management system" to "market to patients and physicians the same way supermarkets do -- by sending information they think a customer needs or wants based on their history," American Medical News reports. "The use of CRM software by the health industry is aided by the increasing automation of data ranging from physician referrals to electronic medical records. The software uses that information to create targeted mailing campaigns, phone banks and even personalized Web content, analogous to when online marketplace makes suggestions for customers based on a user's past purchases and searches."

The endeavors are regulated by patient privacy laws, but hospitals must still face the challenge of maintaining patient trust. "Josh Sweeney, CEO of ALT-Invest, a CRM consulting firm based in Atlanta, said how a health care organization carries out a CRM-based marketing campaign is key, since patients might find it odd -- or even creepy -- to receive materials based on information they might want to keep private. That's much different from getting a coupon for your favorite cereal" (Dolan, 7/19).