8 reasons why hospitals need a patient texting platform

If you were provided a choice of doing one the following:

• respond to a letter;
• return a missed call;
• listen to a voicemail;
• reply to an email; or
• reply to a text message…

… which are you more likely to choose? For most people, the answer would be easy: reply to a text. And there's plenty of data and anecdotes to back this up.

The amount of mail sent is on a steady decline, with Postal Service mail volume dropping from a volume of about 153 billion in 2016 to 146 billion in 2018.

Consumers are increasingly hesitant to answer phone calls. Only 52% of calls Americans receive on their phones are picked up, and this figure is likely declining due to the significant increase in spam calls. A recent survey found that 70% of Americans will not answer their phones when the incoming number is unfamiliar.

Voicemails? Do an online search for "death of voicemail" or other combinations of this phrase and you'll find reports that are already several years old. In fact, Coca-Cola and JPMorgan Chase stripped voicemail service for employees in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Email is still widely used and relied upon, but consider the following insight shared by Michael Stefanone, professor of communications at the University of Buffalo in New York: "Many people dread email because it is a conduit for unwanted advertising, a wide range of spam, and flat out attempts to scam or 'phish' us. It's generally impersonal and work-related." Lifewire references some insightful email statistics, including that each day, the average office worker receives 121 emails; the clickthrough rate for email sent in North America is just 3.1%; and the top reason U.S. Internet users unsubscribe from email lists is, "I get too many emails in general."

That brings us to text messages.

Harness the Power of Patient Texting
While hospitals should leverage a variety of tools to communicate with patients, including those discussed above, texting must be one such resource. Here are eight reasons why hospitals need a patient texting platform.

1. Consumers increasingly prefer communication via texting. Texting is a cost-effective and reliable communication channel that, as data indicates, will be the channel of choice for many — if not most — of today's patients. Text messages have an open rate of 97%, and more than 80% of consumers have notifications turned on for their native SMS apps.

2. Texting is easy. The appeal of texting is that it is fast, convenient and can be completed on a device that is typically always within reach. It requires minimal effort — for many patients, it's likely to be second nature — and is already part of most people's daily lives. Smartphone users spend more than three hours a day on their phones.

To gain the ability to text a patient, all a hospital must do is to capture the patient's mobile number. For a majority of people, this is now their only phone number.

3. The response rate is high. And responses are fast. Research shows that 90% of text messages are read within three minutes of being sent. The average response time for a text is just 90 seconds.

Furthermore, many people perceive not replying "quickly" to a text as rude. How long is quickly? Within 20 minutes.

4. Texting is multi-purpose. There is essentially no limit to what one can include in a standard, short message service (SMS) text message. Directions to provider and service locations. Links to patient portals, online bill pay platforms, surveys and educational videos. Alerts concerning test results. Even something as simple as a message that "touches base" with patients to see if they have any questions or concerns. Sending a text message before an appointment or upon discharge is an effective way to engage and provide support to patients.

The value of texting is further enhanced when the platform offers two-way functionality. This technology can serve several purposes, including allowing staff members to engage directly with patients or automating responses to patient statements that help ensure patients receive timely care.

5. It's an effective means of communication. Many businesses view text messages as a means to remind customers about appointments, but most Americans use texting as a form of conversation. This is why the conversational (and possibly informal) nature of texting represents a valuable communication asset for hospitals. An incoming text message from a patient is just as beneficial as an incoming phone call or email.

6. Texting reduces cancellations and surprise no-shows. Texting can have a significant, positive impact on appointment cancellations. Texted reminders can help keep patients compliant with pre-appointment requirements and better ensure they arrive to their appointment at the right place and on time.

If patients need to cancel an appointment, do not assume they will pick up the phone and call to do so. They may choose to simply not show rather than wait on hold and eventually discuss their situation. However, they may not hesitate to text the need to cancel, especially if prompted by a message asking patients to confirm their appointment or asking if patients have any concerns. A follow-up text from hospitals can help with rescheduling the appointment.

7. It improves staff efficiency. Text messaging can save hours of staff time spent making phone calls. Hospitals also can use texting for other activities, such as one-to-one, real-time communication; automated and scheduled appointment reminders; and pre- and post-compliance messaging. It can be used to broadcast group text messages, including emergency and weather-related details that can reach large numbers of patients within minutes when it would otherwise take staff hours or even days to share the information.

8. Texting can help engage patients in their care. Patient engagement is vital to improving outcomes and satisfaction scores. While including protected health information (PHI) in a standard SMS text message is not permitted, texting is an effective way to direct patients to a portal through which they can access their PHI or to make an inbound call, saving staff from initiating an outbound call.

Texting also is an effective way to set up phone calls and follow-up appointments with patients to further discuss their care.

Patient Texting as Best Practice
Hospitals must ensure the channels used to communicate with patients are chosen based upon individual patient needs and preferences. Some patients will prefer phone calls and emails, and some may even ask for letters (whenever possible). But for a majority of patients, texting will be a — if not the — channel of choice. Fortunately for hospitals, this should be welcomed news for the reasons highlighted earlier and many others.

A good rule of thumb: If you can include the message in a voicemail, email or letter, consider sending it as a text message instead. You'll find that it's typically a winning proposition.

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 caregivers.

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