By Allison Hart, West
If you are like many Americans who send and receive text messages on a daily basis, here is a question: Who do you exchange texts with? Friends and family likely top the list. And possibly co-workers. What about businesses or service providers? Many healthcare providers are surprised to learn patients would like to communicate with them by texting. Then again, texting has grown to become one of the most popular forms of communication, so there shouldn’t be any doubt about whether patients want to text with their providers. They do. A West survey of 1,036 Americans revealed patients are more than three times as likely to text with healthcare professionals today than they were in 2011. Unfortunately, many providers are not meeting patients’ expectations when it comes to texting. Healthcare teams can better satisfy patients by adopting improved text messaging strategies, using existing technology to expand their use of text communications more efficiently.
Growing Demand For Text Communications
Seventy-four percent of Americans say their healthcare providers do not communicate with them enough outside of appointments. Patients would like to have more contact between visits so they have ongoing support to help them manage their health. Patients consider texting to be a good solution for increasing between-visit communication, and they would like to see text messages utilized more often by their healthcare team. In fact, interest in texting has doubled over the past seven years, twice as many patients want to receive text messages from healthcare providers today than did in 2011. Also, 90 percent of Americans now say they see benefits to automated communications, like text messages from providers.
Although patients of all ages express interest in texting with providers, millennials are largely responsible for driving the push for greater use of text communications. Millennials are adept at texting, and 15 percent say they would choose text messages over any other form of communication for conversations with their healthcare team. As the millennial population grows and surpasses older generations in numbers, millennials’ expectations of healthcare communications will become even more influential.
Text Communications Are Underused
Despite patients’ preference for texting, and providers themselves ranking texting as the second most effective way to communicate with patients (behind phone calls), many providers are not using text messages regularly to communicate with patients. When providers do send text messages to patients, the purpose is often to confirm or cancel appointments. Very little communication about health management is taking place through text conversations. Thirty-two percent of providers have texted back and forth with patients to confirm an appointment, and 23 percent have texted to cancel an appointment. But few providers say they have texted patients to provide post-treatment instructions (7 percent) check in for health monitoring (6 percent) or follow up on survey feedback (6 percent). This shows that providers are missing opportunities to deliver value to patients by sending text messages.
A Solution For Better Text Communications Is Within Reach
Not having time to text patients, limited understanding of how to use technology to support text communications and concerns about privacy are just some of the barriers that prevent providers from expanding text communications. Fortunately, there are solutions to these challenges and initiating texting campaigns is much easier than many providers realize.
Automating text communications makes it easy to deliver messages with only a minimal time investment. Healthcare teams can leverage the same technology they use for delivering automated appointment reminders, and use it to send automated text messages on a variety of topics to groups of patients or individuals. Text messages can even be used to direct patients to log on to health portals or contact providers for further details about private health information. By simply putting some smart texting strategies in place and using existing technology in new ways, healthcare teams can widen their use of text messages to fulfill a larger purpose than communicating about appointments. Providers and staff can send patients text messages to improve communication surrounding:
Preventive Care – Twenty-five percent of providers say their organization either does not proactively recommend preventive services to patients, or they do only a fair or poor job making recommendations for preventive care. One way healthcare teams can better use text messages is to send them to patients when they are due for preventive screenings or services.
Follow-Up Treatment – Sixty-four percent of patients are very or extremely willing to text with a healthcare professional about post-treatment instructions. Healthcare providers can use text messages to stay connected and deliver information following surgeries and hospitalizations, for example. These text messages can direct patients to a portal where they can view detailed follow-up instructions.
Remote Health Monitoring – Fifty-nine percent of patients would text with a provider for the purpose of monitoring their health remotely. Healthcare providers can text patients to request that they complete monitoring surveys, and share a link to an online survey. Then, based on information collected through monitoring surveys, providers can send follow-up texts with information or instructions.
Disease Management – Eighty-seven percent of patients wish their providers would engage them between visits to support chronic disease management. Providers can send chronic patients texts to remind them to take medications or practice healthy behaviors outlined in their care plans.
Billing and Payments – Eighty-three percent of patients want providers to text them to share information or reminders about copayments. Healthcare teams can use text messages to help patients understand payment responsibilities before and after appointments.
Service Delays – When providers are delayed, eighty percent of patients would like to receive an alert so they know to adjust their schedule. When a provider is running behind schedule or out sick, staff can send text messages to patients to alert them about changes to their appointments.
Patients expect their healthcare providers to communicate with them between visits, and they want those communications to be convenient and fit their preferences. Rather than reserving text messages solely for appointment reminders and scheduling, healthcare teams have opportunities to upgrade their outreach communications by introducing text messages for more types of communication. By doing so, healthcare teams can better support patients in between face-to-face appointments. Many healthcare providers already have technology in place they can use to deliver text messages to patients without much additional effort. Healthcare teams can meet patients’ expectations if they leverage that technology to deliver the text communications patients say they want.
About The Author
Allison Hart is a regularly-published advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans - and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as Vice President of Marketing at West (www.west.com), where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.