By Aditya Bansod, Luma Health
There has never been greater demand from patients for quicker and easier access to care. To meet that mandate, more and more providers are leveraging mobile-first engagement technologies to improve access and deliver the overall experience today’s consumers expect. One of those technologies is something the vast majority of U.S. adults use every day: text messaging.
Texting has become an integral part of our busy day-to-day lives, and while on the surface it may seem this phenomenon has made communication less personal, the opposite is true. Since text exchanges are so quick and convenient, texting allows us to stay updated on what’s going on in people’s lives on a more constant basis and access information more quickly.
The benefits are obvious and savvy healthcare providers know consumers are on their phones constantly, which makes text messaging the perfect tool for engaging with patients.
The Power Of Automation
Providers are tapping into the power of automated two-way text messaging to engage patients in their own healthcare, and advances in natural language processing are quickly making those interactions more sophisticated by deciphering the real-life language that patients use in their everyday text messages.
Take a simple appointment reminder and confirmation as a basic example. These days, it is relatively easy to automate outreach when a patient has an upcoming appointment. The system could be set up to deliver automated text messages to patients 24 hours ahead of their scheduled appointments. The messages may read something like, “This is a reminder from Dr. Johnson’s office to confirm your 2 p.m. appointment tomorrow. Are you still able to make it? Please respond YES or NO.”
A patient who responds “YES” is all set and ready to go. Meanwhile, a patient who responds “NO” can be automatically directed to schedule another appointment at a more convenient time. But what if a patient responds “Yep,” “Yea,” or with the familiar thumbs-up emoji? Today’s automated engagement systems can process those responses, too, making the experience more efficient, life-like, and, frankly, more enjoyable from the patient’s perspective.
Why Texting Works
Nearly every adult in the U.S. owns a cell phone — 96 percent, according to Pew Research Center. And the numbers gleaned from more than 20 million appointment reminders last year alone show that patients are much more apt to respond to text messages than other forms of communication.
Luma Health recently analyzed roughly four million patient data interactions from its platform, which more than 100,000 healthcare professionals use to connect with more than 10 million patients across the country. The findings show that text message response rates are 60 percent better than email response rates, and 67 percent better than phone call reminder response rates.
When referred to a specialist, 56 percent of patients who get a text invitation to schedule a visit to receive care end up making an appointment. Once the appointment is scheduled, automated reminders help prepare and guide the patient to ensure that they make it to their appointment.
Focusing On The Demographics Of Patient-Centric Texting
This data underscores the importance of embracing text messaging as a patient outreach tool. Skeptics may say, “I’m sure it’s mainly millennials or younger patients who are driving those text message response rates.” According to the data, that’s not the case.
Younger adult patients lag behind older generations when it comes to text message response rates. The age group most likely to respond to appointment reminder texts? Those between the ages of 55 and 74 respond most frequently (49 percent of the time). Patients aged 35-54 followed at 45 percent, with patients aged 18-34s responding 43 percent of the time. In all, reminder confirmation rates among patients aged 55-64 are 13 percent higher than confirmation rates for patients aged 18-34.
Perhaps not as surprising, the age group least likely to respond to text message reminders is adults aged 75-94. That said, this age group still had a text message response rate of 39 percent, which may be higher than many would have expected.
In addition, these trends hold true across all regions of the country (Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, West, and Southeast). In all five regions, text message reminder response rates were at least 52 percent, with the Southwest leading all regions with a 59 percent response rate.
Meanwhile, response rates for phone calls or emails didn’t surpass 29 percent in most regions in the U.S. In fact, the lone exception was the email response rate in the Southwest, which came in at 34 percent. Overall, the data proves that text messaging is a more reliable and effective means of communication compared to email and traditional phone calls.
Completing The Healthcare Cycle: Actionable Feedback
The healthcare journey doesn't end after an appointment. On the contrary, the healthcare experience for patients and providers alike is cyclical, with a key part of this cycle being patient feedback. When it comes to collecting actionable feedback after each visit, patients are again more likely to respond via text message.
For example, when asked to rate a visit on a scale from 1 to 10, the data shows that patients offer feedback via text at much higher rates than via email — 38 percent for text messages versus 19 percent for email. With healthcare increasingly consumer-driven, this is significant because patients who offer positive feedback can be routed to Google Reviews to leave positive online reviews as well, in turn attracting more patients to the clinic.
The popularity of text messaging among today’s consumers — in this case, patients — can’t be overstated. But it doesn’t need to be. The numbers tell the story. The fact that text messaging can be used for other forms of outreach as well makes it even more powerful. Providers can use text messaging as a tool to improve health literacy, whether it’s sharing helpful videos with diabetic patients on how to manage their blood sugar levels, or wider broadcasts to groups of patients on pressing health issues such as the current coronavirus. This level of constant and regular engagement ultimately keeps patients more involved in their healthcare, helping to achieve providers’ ultimate goal: improved outcomes.
About The Author
Aditya Bansod is cofounder and chief technology officer at Luma Health.