Using Text Message Communication to Improve Patient Outreach

The EHR integrated documentation solutions that medical transcription companies provide help physicians focus on and communicate better with their patients. Another strategy that is currently allowing physicians to enhance patient engagement is text message communication. Automated patient outreach simplifies scheduling appointments, reminds patients of screenings and preventive care, and promotes adherence to arrival times and NPO status before surgery. Text messaging tools make access to care easier for patients as well as providers.

Text Message Communication

Text Messages to Manage Appointments

Missed appointments hurt health office revenue. Text messages have become the preferred option over phone calls to reach patients. Calling patients to manage appointments would lead to phone lines getting tied up with staff calling patients or patients calling to cancel or reschedule appointments. Patients could end up waiting even more than 20 minutes to connect with a scheduler. noted that a survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that two-thirds of healthcare organizations use text message reminders in their practice. Most use messaging programs to send appointment reminders and to allow the patient to confirm or cancel the appointment. Compared to phone calls, text messaging offers many advantages:

  • Text message reminders reach the patient directly in their text inbox
  • Avoids the challenges patients face in logging into and accessing their patient portal
  • Text messages are read right away
  • Texting is unobtrusive
  • All text messages are usually read
  • Younger patients are likely more responsive to texts than calls
  • Texting is cost-effective
  • It reduces manual processes and staffing concerns, reduces risk of human error, and improves office efficiency
  • Improves patient satisfaction
  • It is secure

Beyond the Appointment Reminders

Text reminders are being used for more than just preventing no-shows. Practices are using text messages to

  • Remind patients to schedule for their checkups
  • To support preventative care by reminding patients of a mammogram, colorectal cancer screening or other preventive services
  • Track patients with serious conditions (chronic disease management)
  • Instantly notify patients of test results
  • To alert patients about check-in procedures, copayment requirements or other information to ensure appointments run smoothly
  • To send payment reminders

The article discussed the positive experience that North Florida Women’s Care had with text messaging. According to the report, text-messaging reduced the clinic’s no-show rates by half, increased the clinic’s referral conversion rate by 25 percent, provided the opportunity to prompt patient reviews, and improved patient relationships with the practice. The strategy succeeded because most of the patients visiting the clinic are younger and more tech savvy, and poised to adopt text message outreach into their healthcare experience.

Text Messaging Not Always the Best Option

However, experts note that digital messaging would not be the right option in some situations. For instance, telephone call or in-person visit are the preferred option for delivering bad news. Also the patient portal or phone calls are better alternatives for follow-up about how a patient is feeling or if the patient has a question about her health. These in-person communication methods preserve the human element to healthcare.

Also, while text messages are convenient, they also come with security and confidentiality risks. For instance, many text messages tend to remain on the device indefinitely. If the phone is hacked, misplaced or stolen, sensitive information may be leaked to third parties. This includes Protected Health Information(PHI) or personally identifiable data about a patient’s past, present, or future physical or mental health, including prescription information and insurance payments. Moreover, text messages sent by normal means are not encrypted and the data can be seen by anyone who intercepts the message.

HIPAA requires health providers to take steps to secure patients’ PHI, regardless of the communication medium used. Providers must first inform patients about the security risks involved in texting, get the patients’ consent to use texts, and document the patients’ consent. They must also have mechanisms put in place to ensure the integrity of PHI.

As healthcare providers look to improve efficiency with patient outreach, technology can be a big support. Text message communication improves patient satisfaction because it makes certain aspects of healthcare easier for patients. Like outsourced medical transcription services, secure texting solutions save time and valuable resources, and improve the provider-patient relationship.