Healthcare News & Insights

Boosting your bottom line and improving patient engagement with SMS

Text messaging is an increasingly popular way for businesses to interact with their customers. In this guest post Dave Rich, VP of product at a software company/carrier that provides direct access to telephony resources and advanced communication services, explains how hospitals can leverage short message service (SMS) as a communications channel to make the patient experience easier and more convenient.


A recent national survey found that consumers overwhelmingly prefer SMS when engaging with businesses, finding it more relevant and timely than email or voice communications. Respondents read 82% of their text messages within five minutes vs. opening only one in four business emails. Furthermore, the availability of SMS as a communication channel had a direct impact on customer loyalty – 58% indicated they would view a business more positively if they offered SMS capabilities.

SMS has also become a critical and strategic tool for healthcare providers ranging from medical and dental offices, to specialty clinics and pharmacies. Innovative healthcare organizations and clinics are leveraging SMS as a communications channel to make the patient experience easier and more convenient.

Impact on patient experience

Given how widespread smartphone usage is worldwide, the opportunity for text messaging to impact the patient experience and encourage patient involvement in their treatment plan is vast. Whether helping patients to schedule exams and follow-up care, or making it more convenient to pick up their prescriptions, SMS is impacting the way that patients engage with their healthcare providers. “There is no other existing technology that could potentially improve human health that is already used many times per day by billions of people and whose use will assuredly increase over the coming years,” said Julie Lauffenburger and Niteesh Choudhry about SMS in an editorial from Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

For example:

  • Convenience & cost reduction:  Being able to manage appointment reminders, cancellations and rescheduling via text is convenient for patents, and it also has a direct impact on a provider’s bottom line. No-show appointments cost the U.S. more than $150 billion annually, and the problem affects urban hospitals and small specialty clinics most, where no-show rates are between 10% to 20%. According to Athena Insight, just 4.4% of patients who got a text from their provider didn’t show up for their appointments, compared to 10% of patients who didn’t get a notification.
    Further, texting has benefits for healthcare offices in terms of both time and money. Weave, a patient communications software company, notes that organizations can save up to 12 hours per month when compared to phone calls (i.e., 90 seconds for an average phone call, vs. 13 seconds to send an average text), and decrease costs by turning a $6 to $20 call into a chat conversation that costs pennies per session.
  • Communication on the patient’s terms: Text interactions also give patients flexibility to interact with their providers in the manner that feels most comfortable. This can enhance the patient-provider relationship and foster patient loyalty, making it more likely they will seek regular preventive care, as well as treatment for chronic conditions.
    The reality is the actual quality of patient care, in many ways, has become secondary to the emotional connection and overall experience that patients have with their healthcare providers. As Weave stated in a recent blog, “Let’s face it: patients don’t refer your practice to their friends because a teeth cleaning is so wonderfully thorough or because an eye exam is so stellar. It’s the combination of quality healthcare (the functional benefit) alongside more emotional benefits, such as personalized service and attention, convenient amenities like Wi-Fi in the office, and reducing hassles around patient interaction that builds a loyal patient base.”
    “Although it’s hard to believe, even something as simple as a voicemail can be a hassle to us in the modern world,” according to Weave. There’s the time it takes to listen to a message, call the provider back and then be put on hold to reschedule an appointment. These are little things, but they add up when it comes to reducing stress and hassle around an individual’s healthcare.”
  • Motivation to stay engaged: Pharmacies can deliver real-time status updates via text about prescription approvals and when they’re ready for pick-up, eliminating the need to receive a phone call or check email. Messaging can also play a key part in ensuring that patients receive regular reminders to take their medications and adhere to a recommended treatment plan – critical for chronic illnesses such as HIV, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or for oral contraception.
    Further, healthcare organizations can leverage messaging capabilities to text questions for automated responses, or to start an SMS conversation with a scheduling assistant to set up, confirm or reschedule appointments.

Protected health information

Having said this, medical information or protected health information (PHI) should never be shared via text messaging. Instead, the call-to-action within the text should be to either call the physician’s office or pharmacy (for example, to reschedule an appointment) or access additional information via a secure patient portal (which requires a secure login/password).

The statistics on texting can’t be ignored – over six billion texts are sent every day and text messages are read in under five seconds on average. Using this channel securely and in conjunction with industry and regulatory guidelines, text messaging can offer healthcare organizations ranging from medical and dental offices to pharmacies and specialists an affordable and easy way to engage their patients and differentiate their business.

Dave Rich is VP of Products at Flowroute, a software company/carrier that provides direct access to telephony resources, such as calling, messaging, call routing and other advanced communication services, to help deliver unique customer experiences.

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