By Josh Weiner, CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach
If there is one thing we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s that patients probably can’t get enough reliable communication from their trusted healthcare providers. There is so much misinformation out there, and providers are uniquely positioned to reach out to patients with accurate education about both the disease and how to take care of themselves and stay healthy in general.
There are a ton of examples of inaccurate information spreading like wildfire across the internet. False claims that COVID-19 “hates the sun” and can be prevented by sipping warm water have been widely circulated. There’s also a rumor that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds without pain, you don’t have the virus. There was a run on Hydroxychloroquine when it was suggested it might prevent or cure COVID. While those in healthcare scoff at much of this, studies show that most people are susceptible to believing misinformation if it is presented in the right way. Unfortunately, when people believe these things, they put themselves and others at risk.
On the flip side, many are plenty wary of COVID, and that may be putting them at risk too. An MGMA study found that 87 percent of patients say safety is the reason they are reluctant to visit the doctor. And the result is sicker patients and poorer outcomes. The latest data says hospital emergency room visits are down 40 percent, new cancer diagnoses dropped 45 percent, and visits related to heart attacks fell 38 percent while stroke cases were down 30 percent. Some are projecting as many deaths from lack of care as those from COVID by the time it’s all said and done.
So, providers are faced with two problems—helping patients stay safe and keep their families and friends safe with accurate information about COVID and addressing fear and misunderstanding so patients will get care when they need it. The best way to combat both problems is with better engagement and communication. However, when it comes to communication, it’s a new world as well.
New research conducted by SR Health by Solutionreach suggests that patients’ overall communication preferences have changed during the pandemic. First and foremost, interest in phone calls has dropped by 14 percent since the pandemic began. And interest in automated communication and tools like text are on the rise. To be effective, providers need to keep up a steady cadence of automated communications along with opening up the lines of communication with solutions like two-way text messaging.
Text Is Next With Patients
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that text messaging is an effective way to stay connected with your patients. COVID has shown few organizations were prepared to reach all their patients quickly with updates. Text can be used with groups and individuals. It can be used for automated communications as well as individual two-way conversations. And you can be sure patients will get and even respond to these messages because the response rate for text messages is 209 percent higher than it is for phone calls, and most text messages are read within 15 minutes.
Interest in text has been growing for years. Seventy-three percent of patients want to text their provider and 79 percent want to get texts from their provider. Over 60 percent of patients think text is an effective way to communicate across the patient journey, especially for scheduling and appointment communications and care and outreach communications.
Make An Ongoing Connection
To combat misinformation and trepidation, you need to maintain a steady cadence of communications that reinforces accurate information and a positive relationship with the patient. Text is the perfect tool because it is fast and easy and can be used for so many interactions—both automated and real-time.
Two-way text provides added access and convenience when patients need it most. There are many ways to use it, but to allay fears and get patients in for care, these are the most important.
- To save staff time, quickly answer common questions about safety protocols—and anything else—with pre-set responses.
- Text patients before appointments to ask if they are experiencing any COVID symptoms.
- Have patients text on arrival and wait to be texted back to come in for their visit.
- Follow up with at-risk patients through text to make sure they are getting the care and support they need.
Text is also a great option for automated communications that support the best care.
- Automate appointment reminders to increase confirmations and reduce no-shows.
- Include pre-visit instructions in automated reminders to make sure patients show up prepared for any type of visit—in-person or virtual.
- Send electronic intake forms to support in-person and virtual visits and eliminate the need for paper forms and clipboards.
- Automate preventive care reminders to help ensure patients come back for the care they need to stay healthy.
Healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to move patients in the right direction—away from misinformation and fear and toward better health and safety. It just takes the right tools, techniques, and touches.
About The Author
Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Before Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.