Guest Column | August 31, 2021

Changed For The Better: A Shared Digital Communication Solution

By Josh Weiner, SR Health by Solutionreach

Digitize Technology

Fortunately for humans, we’re masters at adaptation. Whether it’s encountering different climates, environments, cultures, or even pandemics, homo sapiens have a knack for being able to deal with just about anything that Mother Nature throws at us. Though cultural anthropology dubs this ability to acclimate “biological plasticity,” actor Clint Eastwood, as a Marine in a 1980s war film, puts it more succinctly: “You adapt. You overcome. You improvise.”

That innate attribute has quite literally been a lifesaver throughout history. But perhaps never more so recently than in the past 18 months as we’ve tackled the myriad impacts and changes brought on by COVID-19. Time after time, medical science and healthcare have rallied to overcome the setbacks posed by the pandemic. Yet aside from the virus’s incalculable human tragedy, it’s irrevocably changed how we live, work, and communicate. This requirement to adapt also has highlighted the key role technology has played in helping us to adjust to these new realities—including in healthcare.

As a society, when in-person interaction wasn’t safe, we adapted and turned to technology to provide us with the answers. We took advantage of digital tools to work from home, participate in online schooling, conduct business through video conferencing, and chat and socialize with others. Not surprising, there were spikes in the use of digital communication tools like texting, video calls, social media, and smartphone apps. In one study, 43 percent of people found that they were texting more than they did before COVID-19.

And though this phenomenon of amplified digitalization was well underway among businesses, consumers, and providers before the pandemic, COVID-19 was fuel on the fire. In just a few months, the digital transformation among businesses was accelerated by “three to four years,” according to McKinsey. Direct, face-to-face interactions waned as we adjusted to the new normal of relying on technological tools to connect with patients and deliver care. Telehealth visits skyrocketed, and patients began getting important appointment messages and COVID-19-related information more quickly and conveniently via text messaging.

But adapting to greater digital interaction in healthcare has actually been more measured and less jarring than we thought. That’s because patients were well-prepared and conditioned from years of extensive digital transformation in the consumer sector. Today, hearing your smartphone ding that you’ve gotten a text appointment reminder or connecting with your doctor for a telehealth visit feels “normal” and more preferred to previous methods. Many patients scratch their heads wondering how they endured slow and time-consuming provider phone calls and other antiquated ways to interact given today’s quick and easy digital communication alternatives.

Data from a HIMSS survey of 2021 patient communication preferences confirms this. Patients today want more digital communication with providers and nearly half of them want it more regularly. The survey results also suggest that text messaging has quickly jumped to the top of the list of patients’ preferred ways to connect. Seven-in-10 patients want to receive texts for things like appointment reminders, confirmations, pre-visit instruction, and post-visit care instructions.

Consequently, providers see why getting on board with texting and other digital technology can help them deliver care to more patients while improving their bottom line. Digital tools like automation, group texting, and real-time two-way texting can help providers significantly boost confirmations, reduce no-shows, and better engage patients. Case in point, providers who sent out automated appointment reminders at a proven cadence increased confirmations by 156 percent.

The pandemic and patients’ changing communication preferences have profoundly altered healthcare communication. Yet our penchant for adaptability and our access to technology has made that journey a much less turbulent ride. Now that we’re here, patients and providers are realizing that not only can change be a good thing, but that modern digital communication tools like texting are superior in just about every way. If we’ve learned anything about bridging communication fissures during COVID-19, it’s that texting can and should be the common solution that more meaningfully brings patients and providers together.

Patients’ expectations and standards of what constitutes effective and convenient communication with providers has been transformed. Technology has filled the gaps to help us adapt and overcome new challenges posed by the pandemic. We’ve emerged with enhanced ways to interact with patients to ensure they arrive prepared and on time for appointments. Going forward, providers’ ability to adapt and innovate using modern tools like text-messaging will be critical to their successful patient engagement strategy and practices.

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 and two children. 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.