8 ways for hospitals to use text messaging for employee engagement

Over the past several years, we have witnessed increasing adoption of text messaging as an essential communication channel for hospitals and health systems as well as many other types of healthcare providers. For those organizations with texting technology, they are finding that this is a time when the value and effectiveness of the resource truly shines.

Throughout the nation, hospitals are reopening departments and affiliated facilities (e.g., ambulatory surgery centers, medical practices), changing procedures, updating remote work policies, and needing to share constantly changing information with personnel. For those hospitals that are leveraging text messaging, resuming operations is proving more streamlined and successful. And in a mobile-led world where employee engagement has become an essential strategy, text messaging is a necessity.

Here are eight ways hospitals can leverage text messaging to improve staff engagement, communication, and satisfaction.

1. Emergencies
The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of business resilience planning and the need for an effective emergency communication channel to support such a program. Text messaging is a fast, effective way of keeping personnel current on expectations. It is also valuable in the event that a hospital must quickly inform staff of a significant development, such as a team member testing positive for COVID-19.

Additional examples of how texting supports emergency communication includes announcing facility closures, natural disaster developments, and other urgent COVID-19 updates.

2. Mass/Group Announcements
Hospitals can use mass or group texting to inform personnel about changes to policies and procedures, such as those concerning screening and wearing of personal protective equipment. Another effective use of mass texting capability is to remind personnel about the need to avoid coming into work if they are not well. Hospitals can also use texting to send links to updated policies and procedures if these documents are accessible online via the hospital's website or employee portal.

Additional examples of how hospitals can use mass or group texting includes announcing revised hours of operation, new staff arrival procedures, updated staff schedules, changes to vendor visit protocols, and a positive COVID-19 result.

3. Surveys
During a crisis, healthcare personnel look for their leadership to convey ongoing compassion and concern for their wellbeing. Leadership is looking for staff to quickly provide information and feedback that can help guide timely decisions. Both can be accomplished using surveys conducted via text message.

Whether you are sending a link to a survey or asking for an immediate rating or a vote, texting has proven to have a higher engagement rate than other communication methods. Leadership can quickly assess staff comfort with new policies and procedures, determine if staff have the resources needed to perform their jobs safely and effectively, request feedback on new initiatives, and more. Leveraging targeted pulse surveys will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your hospital's response to the pandemic.

If personnel experience a communication gap, you run the risk that they will come up with their own narrative about internal and external problems and priorities. Now is the time to communicate clearly and frequently about where your hospital is going and how it is going to get there.

4. Health Plan, Provider, and Benefits Information
The pandemic has made the general population more acutely aware of their health. It has also shined a spotlight on health coverage. Hospitals can use text messaging to provide staff with timely information and answers to frequently asked questions concerning their sponsored health insurance. This can include matters such as where personnel and covered family members can go to receive a COVID-19 test, the availability of mental health services (i.e., employee assistance programs), and options for telehealth.

Automating a series of texts to go out before open enrollment starts and throughout the enrollment period is a simple and effective way to increase engagement during open enrollment. Many hospitals also use automated text campaigns to drive engagement with sponsored health and wellness initiatives.

5. Telehealth Providers and Information
According to the 2019 Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, almost 9 out of 10 large employers offer a telemedicine program to their members. While utilization was growing slowly, COVID-19 has rapidly advanced the model.

Text messaging is the most effective way for to communicate with personnel about their telehealth options and encourage them to take advantage of these virtual services. There is little to no learning curve to use telehealth as most have used videotelephony programs (e.g., FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger). There is no need for someone to have wi-fi, a computer, speakers, or even be at home to access telehealth services through their mobile phone.

In addition, reminding personnel about their covered telehealth options reinforces your investment in their safety and virtual care benefits. Even if staff choose not to take advantage of the service, there is comfort knowing that the option is available should they choose to pursue it.

6. Language Preference
Communicating in the preferred language of personnel — whether communicating to them or receiving communication from them — eliminates language barriers. Hospitals should seek out a text messaging platform that supports multiple language options.

Sending text messages using a team member's preferred language will drastically enhance communication and achieve higher engagement.

7. COVID-19 Updates and Resources
Staying current with the latest local and national developments concerning COVID-19 is difficult, but it is essential that personnel understand the guidelines they are expected to follow when traveling to, from, and at work as well as outside of work to reduce safety risks. To make this easier, hospitals can use text messaging to provide personnel with COVID-19 updates.

Hospitals can choose to make reviewing these materials mandatory and require staff to attest via text message replies that they have received and reviewed the information.

8. Emotional Support
To provide emotional and inspirational support to personnel during this unprecedented and uncertain time, hospitals are using text messaging. We believe the value of supportive text messages can be underestimated, but that is changing as mental health is increasingly strained because of the health crisis and other challenges. Sending an uplifting text message can have a positive impact on mental health. Here are a few examples of text messages hospitals are sending to help lift the spirits of their team members.

"Sometimes we are tested not to show our weaknesses but to discover our strengths" – John F. Kennedy. As you know we have been tested these past few weeks, but it's the confidence we have in our team that assures us we will return from this stronger and better than before. Until that time, please know we are wishing you and yours good health.

During this challenging time, we want you to know that we appreciate everything you do and the sacrifices that have been made. Your selflessness represents the best of our organization. We look forward to coming back together as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we wish you good health.

Text Messaging to Help Traverse the "New Normal"
Text messaging is a proven method for communication and improving staff engagement and satisfaction, among other benefits. As text messaging has become the preferred communication method for a growing number of Americans, hospitals and health system should evaluate how they can incorporate two-way text messaging as a communication platform or further expand its existing use during this transitional period.

Brandon Daniell is president and co-founder of Dialog Health, a cloud-based, two-way texting platform that enables vital information to be pushed to and pulled from patients and caregiver

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