The primary communication method for a physician practice has typically been the phone call. Every day, staff and physicians pick up the phone and call patients. The calls could be about insurance verification, appointment reminders, test and lab results, payment reminders or anything else relevant to running a successful practice.
But over the last few years, a fundamental change has occurred that has impacted the effectiveness of phone calls as a reliable communication channel for practices: Many adults now prefer to send/receive a text instead of making/receiving a phone call, reports The Chicago Tribune.
A survey by TrueCaller found that 64 percent of adults choose to not answer a call from a number they don’t recognize. Furthermore, leaving a voicemail is no longer an assured way to reach someone quickly, if at all. More than 30 percent of voicemails linger unheard for three days or more, and more than 20 percent of Americans do not check their voicemail at all, reports The New York Times.
Consider the impact of these trends for a practice that still relies on phone calls as its primary patient communication method. Long gone are the days when phone calls and voicemails were a convenient, fast, efficient and reliable form of communication.
When it comes to texting in America, the following research and statistics speak volumes:
- 95 percent of text messages are read within 3 minutes of being sent (Forbes)
- 98 percent of text messages are read (Dynmark)
- 91 percent of U.S. adults 65 and older own a cellphone, with 53 percent owning a smartphone (Pew Research Center)
- 90 seconds is the average response time for a text. (CTIA)
By embracing two-way texting as a communication channel for patient engagement, practices can achieve significant improvements throughout their operations.
Here are seven ways that practices can benefit immediately from two-way texting.
1. Generate inbound calls. Not every outbound phone call staffers make is answered for the reasons mentioned above, but almost every inbound call to a practice during hours of operation is answered. Texting is a great way to inform patients that they need to call the practice. The text can even put the practice’s phone number at their fingertips.
For example, you can send a text to patients letting them know that their insurance has been verified and that they may have a copay, then ask them to call the practice to learn more. For staff members tasked with outbound insurance verification calls to patients, this usage case is a fundamental game-changer to their workflow because it frees up time typically spent leaving voicemails and playing phone tag.
2. Provide education and support. Two-way texting is an easy way to put relevant information in patients' hands before or after appointments. Many patients will lose or discard printed information given or mailed to them, but they will likely read and engage with a text.
Sending a text with a link to additional information available online is a great way to steer patients to relevant resources. Remember, more than 97 percent of mobile phones have access to the internet. If you want patients to look at an online video, read appointment-related instructions or go to a portal to view lab results or discharge instructions, just include the link in the text.
3. Increase compliance and adherence. Two-way texting also is a great way to ask patients if they are complying with medication and/or care protocols. Consider sending the following reminder tasks:
- “Have you weighed yourself today?”
- “Are you taking your medication as instructed?”
- “Have you completed your knee exercise for 15 minutes today?”
- “Have you scheduled your follow-up appointment with us?”
If patients reply via text that they are not in compliance with your instructions, staff can reach out and re-engage the patient.
4. Improve online reputation management. Two-way texting is a very effective way to gauge patient satisfaction following an appointment and steer satisfied patients to leave positive reviews about your practice online.
Furthermore, by asking a patient to text back to share their level of satisfaction with an appointment experience, the practice can receive immediate feedback from the patient and can intervene quickly if an experience was unsatisfactory.
5. Increase top-line revenue. Using texting for appointment-related messages reduces cancellations and no-shows. Not only can you more effectively identify which patients plan to keep their appointment, but staff also can identify patients who need to cancel or reschedule. That gives staff a chance to fill that appointment slot with other patients.
For practices that provide annual visits, texting is a great way to recall patients or remind them about additional services available, such as annual wellness visits.
6. Improve payment-related communication. Before mailing out letters to patients regarding overdue payments, you can send a well-worded and polite text reminding them that payment is due. Include a link to an online bill pay website, if you offer such a payment mechanism. This approach to securing payment is familiar to most people, since many other industries already use texting for payment prompts, including most major credit cards and many banks.
7. Provide updates concerning local weather-related and other schedule changes. Texting is a fast and efficient way to update patients about relevant changes to their appointment due to a local weather event, such as a winter storm or hurricane, or other issues, such as power outage or physician illness. Sending a text to a group of patients letting them know their appointment needs to be delayed or cancelled and asking them to call the practice to reschedule is much easier than picking up the phone and calling every patient on the schedule for that day or multiple days. Otherwise, staff will be leaving a lot of voicemails, and the practice better hope patients listen to the voicemails. For those who don't, they will likely show up at your door, only to be frustrated to learn then that their appointment was canceled.
Texts can notify, educate, support and steer a patient to richer patient experiences. Importantly, texts from patients can prompt the staff to re-engage with the patient as needed.
Best of all, texting requires no behavior change from patients. All they need is a mobile phone number and the ability to read a text. Text messaging also can help physicians cross language barriers: If a patient prefers to receive communications in a different language, texts can usually be sent in that language. Finally, since more than nine out of 10 of all adults own a cell phone (Pew Research Center), texting is an effective communication option for most patients.
Every employee currently tasked with making phone calls to patients can also benefit from two-way texting. Texts can eliminate many outgoing phone calls, generate inbound calls and increase touch frequency with patients. Two-way texting is a channel that should be considered as a key part of any physician practice’s communication strategy.
Brandon Daniell is president and co-founder of Dialog Health. He has more than 18 years of business and program development experience in healthcare, having worked with leading employers, physicians, payors and hospital systems. With three private practice physicians in his family, Brandon understands the challenges many practices face concerning patient engagement.