Medical care continues to advance at a frenetic pace, with new diagnostics, treatments, and therapies arriving monthly. So why are medical communications still stuck in the 20th century?
Despite the ubiquitous presence of smartphones among consumers of all ages, medical practices still use one-to-one telephone calls as the primary communications vehicle. While some communications have moved to patient portals, responses often take hours — or days — if they are answered at all, lessening the overall patient experience and satisfaction with their care.
Texting is a far better way to communicate, with a 99% open rate and average response time of 90 seconds. In a recent survey among chiropractic patients, 90% of patients prefer texting their doctor, including older patients. However, most practices continue to call or email as the primary communications option.
Adopting a text-first, HIPAA-compliant, collaborative communications mentality can bring more efficient medical practice operations, reduce barriers to care, and increase patient satisfaction and loyalty.
Practice efficiencies mean helping more patients.
Small changes to practice workflows can improve overall organizational efficiency. A recent study showed that an intervention group could offer 48% more patient appointment slots than the control group by reducing administrative burdens.
Adopting a text-first, SMS/MMS mentality can bring significant efficiencies to a practice. Think about how many daily calls practice staff answer or make. There are the outgoing calls reminding patients about upcoming appointments that most patients don’t answer, forcing staff to leave a message, then answer the phone when the patient calls back to confirm. Then there are questions about office location, directions, and other routine communications that take staff away from direct patient care.
Patient-initiated collaborative texting puts patients in control – allowing them to text the office’s main number. Text appointment reminders can be scheduled in advance, with staff following up with the few who don’t respond, rather than every patient. For medical records, prescription refills, and the like, common inbound text requests can be routed to the appropriate staff person for follow-up.
After a pediatrics provider adopted SMS/MMS-compliant texting, inbound call volume dropped by 70% while outcomes improved, and the practice could schedule more patients due to workflow efficiencies. The one-to-many nature of text communications allows staff to multitask versus the one-to-one nature of phone calls.
Establishing effective communications between patients and providers is a critical success factor. More than nine in 10 patients who were unhappy with their care experience said they wouldn’t return to the practice or recommend it to others. Retaining happy patients is more cost-effective than recruiting, and onboarding new patients, which is why adopting a modern communications strategy makes sense.
Reduce barriers to care
As technology continues to mature, adults of all ages see the advantage of self-serve options to perform all types of tasks. Who really wants to call a medical practice for an appointment or stand in line at the office to check-in? Eighty-three percent of consumers in a recent survey want to keep self-serve medical options that gained traction during the pandemic, including online check-in (49%), telehealth visits when possible (46%), digital and electronic payment options (44%), and electronic communications with providers that includes text reminders for bills (36%).
A robust communications platform can support HIPAA-compliant SMS/MMS texting and secure telehealth visits that don’t require a patient to download an app to their phone or log in to a portal. Many patient touchpoints can be covered by text without the back and forth among front-office staff, back-office, medical aides, and the clinician.
Think about an orthodontic patient who wonders whether he is using the right aligner. He can snap a photo and text it to the practice to receive an answer near real-time. What about the dermatology patient who is worried about a suspicious mole? She also can snap a photo and have the picture routed to the dermatologist, who can either reassure the patient or initiate an appointment in the return text.
In a recent survey of health executives, 83% say improving patient access with digital tools is a top strategic priority, underscoring the importance of modern communications tools that include texting.
Increase patient satisfaction and loyalty
The same survey showed that 43% of health executives believe improving patient satisfaction is a strategic aim, and a unified communications platform can achieve both aims.
These days, texting is widely perceived as a more intimate form of communication than a phone call. It’s more spontaneous and relevant to how modern communication occurs. How often do you send off a quick text to a business associate or friend, and how often do you pick up the phone?
Today’s consumers want to have more significant and timely communication with their care providers and their care teams. Such interactions create a feeling of a concierge service, which can increase patient satisfaction, a critical success factor. By increasing the number of appointment slots available, patients can be seen sooner at a practice.
An observational study on texting surgical patients showed an average engagement rate of 90%. According to surveyed patients, 98% liked the text messages, and 95.5% said they felt more connected to the care team. Additional findings include that 92% agreed that text updates helped avoid office calls, while 85.6% preferred text updates when compared with other forms of communication, including emails, phone calls, or messages in a patient portal.
Texting efficiencies continue to advance.
Nearly three-quarters of consumers say they prefer texting with a business if an actual human is the returning texts — no bots need reply.
But the rise of artificial intelligence has led to further advances in smart texting, including the ability to answer simple questions — such as “when is my next appointment?” — without human intervention. Texts regarding certain actions like prescription refills or payment questions can be automatically routed to the correct department for follow-up.
Because of privacy concerns, texting in a medical setting must occur on a HIPAA-compliant platform, but solutions exist today where secure text communications flow to the patient record and enable video calls and the ability for patients to pay their bills by text.
Keith Dressler is a health care executive.
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