By Josh Weiner, CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach
Most of us remember the “old” days when people still communicated through handwritten letters. Checking the mailbox in the hopes of finding something addressed to you was an eagerly anticipated part of daily life. Though you can still pen a letter to someone and send it with a stamp, typically the only items people dig out of their mailboxes these days are much less satisfying bills and spam mail.
Now, snail mail has largely been replaced by more sophisticated forms of communication influenced by progress, technology, and the ever-present need for speed and convenience. For most consumers, businesses, and organizations, if it isn’t fast, reliable, and easy to use, they don’t want it—and they certainly won’t use it. We live in an era of smartphones, status updates, texting, tweeting, and TikTok. Rather than measure the time to connect with someone in weeks or days, today it’s in hours, minutes, or even seconds. Nearly 80 percent of American consumers say that speed and convenience are the most important elements of a positive customer experience.
More and more, the same holds true for our healthcare communications. Increasingly, providers are shifting to more efficient patient communication channels that emphasize accessibility, convenience, and haste. Though syncing communication preferences is always the first step to being on the same wavelength with patients, best practices reveal that some mediums are better than others when speed and timing are must-haves. Letters, newsletters, phone calls, and patient portal messages are a poor substitute when you need to expedite timely health information. Nowhere has this been better illustrated in the past year than in our ongoing experience with COVID-19.
Due to its lethality, the pandemic forced us not only to rethink how we communicate but also what types of information need to be conveyed to support patient care and safety. Rapidly changing conditions across the country meant that coronavirus case numbers, deaths, and hospitalizations varied greatly from day to day. Hence, states and cities adopted an array of area-specific health safety protocols, mandates, and requirements to keep people safe and informed. When the vaccines rolled out, governments, health organizations, and providers also relied on avenues like social media, text messages, and the mass media as a way to share vaccine distribution and availability.
Through it all, the ability to communicate quickly and effectively using modern technology has been crucial to keeping patients safe and ensuring they receive the vaccine. Case in point was the recent pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. When news broke that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) was temporarily halting the vaccine’s use due to instances of severe blot clots, we needed a fast and reliable way to inform, educate, and reassure those who had already received the vaccine. We also had to beat feet to quickly alert people scheduled to receive the vaccine and reset appointments. Can you imagine the impracticality and absurdity of attempting to reach millions of patients about the vaccine’s pause limited only to phone calls and emails?
Despite remarkable progress in recent months in vaccinating Americans and turning the tide, we know that COVID is never going to fully disappear. But thankfully, neither will real-time technologies that facilitate more effective healthcare communication like telehealth, text message alerts, and social media updates. To effectively reach patients with vital information that generates replies and responses, we need to ensure we’re using the most suitable technologies and tools. To achieve this, providers must be able to communicate the right information at the right time to the right people.
In 2021, phone calls, emails, and patient portal messages are no longer the most suitable communication tools to get the job done. Just like consumers, patients want to connect in ways that are easy to use, accessible, and handy. During COVID, patients’ desire for phone calls dropped by 14 percent while their demand for more automated communications with providers reached 84 percent. Due to the speed, convenience, and near-universal accessibility of smartphones, text messaging is overwhelmingly how consumers and patients of all ages want to connect. Nearly 80 percent of patients want to receive texts from their providers and almost 75 percent want to be able to send texts to their providers.
For patient engagement that produces optimal results, providers should adopt communications methods and practices that match their patients’ preferences and that allow them to be nimbler. Whether sending automated appointment reminders to reduce no-shows or pushing out group text alerts to inform patients about urgent matters like the J&J vaccine pause, text messaging can do the majority of your heavy lifting. From reminders to post-care follow-up to recall notices, texting lets you be more responsive to patients by conversing with them across their healthcare journey.
Given today’s realities, providers must be prepared to connect, inform, and educate their patients—often at a moment’s notice. Healthcare organizations that align their communications capabilities with current preferences and proven best practices can foster improved patient engagement—from helping patients make their appointments to keeping them up to date on timely issues that impact their health.
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.