Improving Patient Engagement: Seven ways texting can make a difference

If your practice isn't already communicating with patients via texting, consider how adding the mechanism could help with your efforts to enhance engagement.

Over the last several years, "patient engagement" has gone from a buzzword to an increasingly essential concept for practices. Effective engagement of patients can lead to substantial improvements in everything from treatment outcomes to a practice's financial performance.

As patient engagement has taken on greater importance, some practices have been challenged to find ways to strengthen engagement that do not require allocation of significant staff time and resources or an overhaul of staff responsibilities and workflows. As practices continue to navigate the pandemic, focusing on delivering safe care and generating the consistent revenue needed to maintain viability and giving patient engagement the attention it now needs and deserves, has understandably proven increasingly difficult.

But as many practices are finding, improving engagement may not require a lot of work. In fact, all it may take is a text message. Below is a summary of seven of the ways practices are using texting to better support and boost patient engagement. For practices already using text messaging, this list may provide new ideas on how to further leverage your technology. If your practice isn't already communicating with patients via texting, consider how adding the mechanism could help with your efforts to enhance engagement.

Appointment Reminders

Texting is a great way to remind patients about appointments including their date, time, and location. In addition, a reminder text can include a note about the practice's ongoing commitment to safety and instructions on what patients are expected to do to support these efforts. This will provide reassurances to patients and help reduce hesitancy that can lead to cancellations and no-shows. Postponed or delayed appointments can disrupt continuity of care for patients and result in loss of money and time for a practice.

Recall Campaigns

Whether it's time for an annual physical/Medicare wellness visit or other routine preventive care, texting can serve as the backbone for a practice's recall program. If patients come to a practice for an initial, routine service, they likely already appreciate the importance and value of the service. Getting them back in at the appropriate time may not require much convincing. All patients may need is a simple, streamlined method to schedule future appointments. A simple reminder text message could be all that's required for successful recalls that help keep patients complying with their routine care schedule and your volume growing.

Considering the pandemic forced or motivated many patients to postpone non-emergent care, texting can serve as an impactful way to reengage these patients and get them back onto a routine schedule. As Jonathan Tornetta recently noted in a Physicians Practice column about using text messaging for recalls, "scheduling recalls with your existing patients is one of the best ways to keep them healthy, improve goodwill, and maintain good cash flow."

Compliance

A successful outcome for many healthcare services is not solely achieved during a visit. Rather, what happens after may be just as essential and is often even more important. Patients or their caregivers may need to complete tasks that support recovery or reduce the potential for infection, injury, and other complications.

Text messaging can engage patients and caregivers to help improve compliance with post-appointment instructions that can keep patients on the path to improved health. For example, texts can include reminders about steps patients should take, such as removing items that can increase fall risks, performing specific exercises, taking a new prescription, and replacing a dressing, or adjusting a brace. If applicable, the message can include a link to videos, infographics, or patient portals that can further support these instructions.

Text messages can also inquire about whether patients or caregivers have questions or concerns about instructions and remind patients and caregivers of what they should do if they require assistance following the appointment. These simple communications can improve compliance, reduce patient harm, and increase satisfaction.

Telehealth

While offering telehealth services has proven to be a sensible way of delivering select care during the pandemic, there are often engagement challenges that come with launching and growing a telehealth program. For most patients, telehealth was or remains a new concept. Text messaging can help address some of the usage and engagement barriers for telehealth.

A text can include hyperlinks to initiate telehealth consultations. Once the link in the text is selected by the patient, a default videotelephony app (if already installed, which can also be encouraged via text message) or web browser should automatically open and the camera on the phone should activate.

The easier practices can make participating in a telehealth appointment, the more likely it is that patients will agree to and participate in them.

Vaccinations

Texting can be a highly effective way to inform patients about the availability of vaccinations, from those for COVID-19 and influenza to any of the vaccines in the recommended child and adolescent and adult immunization schedules. In fact, research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that texting can be a "simple, low-cost, and timely way to increase vaccination uptake on a large scale."

Patient satisfaction surveys

Patient surveys are a crucial way to assess the performance of your practice. Perhaps more importantly, they're also a valuable means of identifying when performance is perceived to be substandard, which can help you assess potential shortcomings and implement fixes before they negatively affect other patients and possibly cause you to lose volume.

Two-way texting, which allows the recipient of the text to reply to a message, has become a practical way to conduct patient satisfaction surveys. For example, practices can send a survey text message to patients asking them to rate their experience on numbered scale. When patients respond with a low rating, a follow-up text can ask them to explain what they found disappointing and inquire if they would like to speak with a practice representative about their experience. This perceived genuine interest in learning about a patient's negative experience can not only help you improve operations, but it may reduce the likelihood that the patient will leave a negative review online.

Online reputation

Speaking of online reviews, just how important is online reputation for healthcare providers these days? To say "very important" might be an understatement. The results of recent patient survey conducted by RepuGen found that, "more than 95% of the patient population consider online reviews to be an important aspect of their decision-making process, with 40% of them refusing to visit providers with poor reviews." In addition, online reviews, together with referrals from another medical professional or family/friends, are the most important factors considered by patients when evaluating potential healthcare providers.

Texting gives practices a simple method of asking patients to leave an online review, especially those who indicated that they had a positive experience. A text can be sent that provides a direct link to the online review platform(s) (e.g., Yelp, Vitals, Google, Facebook) and encourages patients to take a moment to publish their thoughts.

In addition, a text can be sent to patients asking them to reply and share comments about their experience. If a patient responds with great commentary, the practice can send one more message asking for permission to publish the testimonial. Sharing positive reviews and testimonials can serve as an effective marketing mechanism.

The easy way to engage

The examples highlighted represent just a few of the ways text messaging is helping practices improve the overall effectiveness of their patient engagement efforts, expand when and why they are engaging with patients, better take advantage of what is learned through these efforts, and strengthen their bottom line.

Adding and using texting as a communication mechanism is typically easy and fast. Practices may find that it's the patient engagement tool they've been missing.

About the Author
Brandon Daniell is president and co-founder of Dialog Health.