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There was a time when physician practices could rely upon the likes of phone calls and emails to engage with their patients. But those days are long past thanks to the deluge of spam and scams that have severely devalued these communication methods. Most Americans do not answer their mobile phone when an unknown number calls, and one estimate puts the average number of unread emails in a typical inbox at 500, many of which are junk or spam.
Practices looking for a more reliable way to engage and communicate with patients have been increasingly turning to text messaging and finding success. And now there's good news on the federal level that will help keep texting from falling victim to the same spam fate as phone calls and emails.
In March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its first rules concerning scam texting that immediately went into effect. To summarize, the rules require mobile service providers (e.g., Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Mint) to:
- block text messages likely to be illegal;
- block sources unlikely to be a legitimate source for texts; and
- establish a point of contact for text message senders to inquire about inappropriately blocked texts.
FCC has indicated the agency is strongly considering other measures that will further cut back on spam text messages, which have seen an increase in recent years but still come in well under the number of spam and scam phone calls and emails.
For practices using or considering whether to add texting as a communication channel, these new FCC rules and the agency's attention to scam texts are a welcome development. As the number of spam texts declines, patient confidence in text messaging as a trusted communication mechanism should rise, further contributing to higher patient engagement and faster response times to messages.
How to choose a text messaging platform for healthcare
As practices are researching their options for text messaging solutions, they should prioritize working with a healthcare text messaging company that understands the new FCC's rules and designs its technology to comply with these and other regulations. But that's just one quality to look for. Others that should be prioritized include the following:
- Secure and reliable. Considering the significant rules governing protected health information, coupled with the rise of cyberattacks, practices cannot run the risk of using a texting platform that will not help guard sensitive data. Look for a platform that adheres to current standards such as HIPAA, SSAE, TCPA and CTIA.
- Tier 1 connectivity. This is essential for achieving the best-in-class ability to send and receive texts across all mobile providers.
- Two-way texting function. Many texting solutions only enable providers to send a message, not receive one. This limits the ability for practices to take full advantage of the power of conversational text messaging — i.e., two-way texting. With two-way texting, practices can engage with recipients and request responses to messages. The functionality is essential for many use cases such as verifying patient appointments, post-appointment follow-up communications and conducting surveys.
- Integration with existing systems and ease of use. One of the biggest benefits of text messaging is it should make communication fast and efficient, thus reducing staff workloads and reliance on slow, expensive manual outreach tasks. Look for a platform that can successfully integrate with your practice's existing systems to better ensure consistent flow of information and one that includes an easy-to-use console allowing you to manage text campaigns in a straightforward manner.
- Multiple texting solutions. A healthcare text messaging platform should include numerous solutions to help your practice accomplish its communication and engagement objectives. Just a few examples of solutions to look for: mobile keyword sign-up, custom subscriber fields, on-screen delivery receipts, extended character length, ability to export data, inclusion of a second mobile number (e.g., family member, caregiver) and custom workflow campaigns.
- One number for all communications. Another solution practices will want to look for is the ability to deliver messages consistently from the same number. As noted earlier, most people are ignoring phone calls from unknown numbers. People also want to feel confident that they are responding to and engaging with the right party when texting. Patients and staff are more likely to communicate with a practice using texting when all messages come from the same 5-digit "short code" or 10-digit phone number. This will also provide a visible history of all engagements stored on their phones. The healthcare texting company you choose should be able to set your practice up with a single sender number to use for all your texting.
- Flexibility of message delivery. The texting solution you use should enable you to send real-time and pre-scheduled messages, with some pre-scheduled text messages automatically going out because of trigger events. Examples include messages being sent to patients a certain number of days in advance of or following an appointment (which is particularly helpful for recall campaigns) and messages going out to staff a defined number of days prior to the start and end of open enrollment.
- Proficiency with hyperlinks. While texting on its own is an impressive technology, sometimes a practice will want to share more information than one can in a text message. That's where the ability to include web links in texts can make all the difference. The healthcare texting platform you choose should come standard with the ability to include hyperlinks that steer recipients to additional resources and information, such as those for patient education and compliance, maps, videos, surveys and payment portals.
Text messaging is a simple, yet highly effective and efficient means of engaging and communicating with patients and staff. The FCC's new rules and commitment to cracking down on spam and scam texts will only help to solidify texting as an integral — if not central — component of healthcare communications.
Sean Roy is co-founder and chief product officer for Dialog Health, provider of a two-way texting platform to healthcare organizations which they can leverage as a communication and engagement channel.