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4 Ways Text Messaging Is a Patient Communications Must-Have

Posted on Feb 10, 2022 by Solutionreach

    elderly woman texting

    Given that a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 97 percent of Americans are texters, it’s safe to assume the vast majority of your current and potential patients fall into that category. But why should your practice invest in a patient engagement system that allows patient texting? Is it really worth adding yet another communication channel to your front office? Let’s explore. 

    Texting Appointment Reminders

    Anyone running a healthcare practice will be familiar with the cost and inconvenience of patients not showing up for their appointments. Health Management Technology puts the cost of each no-show at $200, with the total cost in the US reaching $150 billion every year. There is ample reason, then, to reduce your no-show rate as much as possible. 

    Enter appointment reminders. A wide-reaching study found them to be “effective at improving appointment attendance across a range of health care settings and patient populations.” 

    In summary, no-shows are costly, and appointment reminders help reduce that cost. 

    But why should you send those reminders in text form? The answer is simple.  

    1. Patients Prefer Texts


    A recent survey found that almost 75 percent of American Gen Zs and millennials prefer texting to phone calls. On top of that, approximately 89 percent of consumers prefer to have access to texting their healthcare providers. One good reason to send text reminders, then, is that most patients prefer that method over calls or emails. Reminding patients about appointments in the way they prefer will drastically increase the efficacy of your reminders, reducing your no-show rate and improving patient satisfaction. 

    A common objection to texting with patients is that it lacks the personal touch of phone calls. In fact, there’s nothing more endearing than reaching out to patients in the way they prefer. For those who still prefer a good old-fashioned phone call, that’s of course the best move. But for the majority who now prefer texting, respecting those wishes shows that you care. 

    2. Texting Makes Great Service Easier


    In addition to being the preferred mode of communication for most patients, texting will also increase your staff’s efficiency. Manually reminding patients over the phone takes a lot of time—time that could be better spent attending to patients who are currently in the office. 

    Texting is an example of asynchronous communication—which means the two parties of a conversation do not have to be present at the same time. You can send a text any time, and the recipient can read and respond two minutes or two hours later. In the context of servicing patients, asynchronous communication means no one is ever on hold. You can text your reminder and a patient can get to it when it is convenient for them. 

    Likewise, through two-way text messaging, a patient can text in a question and then get on with their day, rather than waiting on hold for an answer. This means staff can prioritize patients in the office and then respond to patient texts. In this way, your texting with texters also benefits patients who prefer to call the office, because your team will be more available to help them immediately. Everyone gets help, no one is on hold, and patient satisfaction inevitably increases. 

    3. Texting With Patients Can Improve Outcomes


    According to a U.S Department of Education health literacy assessment, 88 percent of patients say they need extra help understanding their own health and treatment. This means that most patients have questions that need answering in order to optimize their health outcomes. There is a lot that you can do to encourage patients to ask those questions during their visits. But not all questions will occur to patients right away, and not all patients are comfortable asking those questions in person. 

    Making it possible for patients to text your office opens a new avenue through which those questions can be easily asked and answered. Not only does this provide a more comfortable context for patients who might be shy in person, but a texted answer is also available for them to read and reread as needed. Texting, then, is a simple way to help ensure patients understand their own care, which will improve outcomes. 

    4. Texting Saves Your Staff Valuable Time


    Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of texting to your practice is that a patient relationship management (PRM) solution can automate your text messages. This allows you to more efficiently reach patients while reducing time and the workload your staff spends on phones or manual reminder systems. Automation allows you to send reminders, recall notifications, intake, payment links, and other important appointment workflow messaging at every stage of the healthcare journey. 

    What does that mean for your practice? For starters, it means more confirmations, fewer no-shows and late cancellations. It means more patients showing up for their visits prepared and on time. When practices sent out automated appointment reminders at a proven cadence of three weeks, three days, and three hours, confirmations increased by 156 percent. By implementing an automated, text-first solution, one healthcare organization was able to lower no-shows by nearly 70 percent

    Automated text messages help ensure your patients actually get the care they need while also helping you fill your schedule and increase revenue.

    Keeping Your Patient Texts HIPAA Compliant

    While the benefits of texting patients are numerous, there are HIPAA risks to mitigate. Unlike phone calls, texting does leave a written record of what’s been sent. What’s more, it is possible to send a text to the wrong number. Poor texting practices can lead to HIPAA violations, which can carry fines of up to $50,000. Let’s look at simple ways you can prevent such violations.

    Obtain and Document Your Patient’s Consent

    Keep your Notice of Privacy Practices up to date, and make sure it covers texting. Give your patients a chance to opt in or out of your various methods of communication. Once a patient has filled out and signed that document, make sure their preferences are reflected in your patient engagement system. This will ensure that you’re interacting with each patient in the way they prefer, which will nurture that patient relationship. The documentation will also provide solid protection in case of a HIPAA audit. 

    Keep Your Contact Information Up to Date

    An easy way to violate HIPAA is to text protected health information (PHI) to the wrong number. To avoid that mistake, regularly ask your patients to verify their contact information. You can also use that same point of contact to invite them to update their opt-ins, keeping you current on how your patients prefer to be contacted. 

    Only Text What Is Necessary 

    Since HIPAA is all about safeguarding PHI, it stands to reason that you should include as little PHI as possible in your texts. For example, in appointment reminder texts, all you’ll need to send is the date and time of the appointment. Of course, that message can include an invitation for the patient to text back if they need more information. If answering their question requires PHI, just verify with them that they’re OK with that information coming in text form. 

    For more about how to take an effective and efficient text-first approach with patient engagement while remaining HIPAA compliant, download the free guide, “Learn How to Become a Text and Email Compliance Guru.”

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