The following is a guest article by Dan Simenc, Chief Revenue Officer, SR Health by Solutionreach.
Since the pandemic began, healthcare organizations have been making significant process and technology changes to see and treat patients safely. There are new safety protocols like mask requirements, new options for care like telehealth, and new processes like park and text waiting. Now, in addition to traditional reminders, all these changes need to be communicated to patients so they are prepared and know what to expect when they come in.
Beyond visit instructions and information on new processes, consider that healthcare providers are also in the unique position of being able to reach out to patients with accurate, up-to-date information about the virus. A patient’s doctor may be the only source of accurate information. But with everything going on right now, it can be harder than ever to reach patients.
A recent study showed that patient interest in phone calls has gone down 14 percent since the pandemic began. Truthfully, voice was already on the way out with only 18 percent of people saying they listen to a voicemail from a number they don’t know. So phone calls are not the best option. However, COVID-19 has accelerated interest in digital communication, which has risen as patients see that text and email are more effective for communication across their journey.
Text is particularly appealing. The patient provider relationship study found that 73 percent of patients want to text their doctor’s office and 79 percent want to get texts from their provider. The flexibility of text messaging is part of the appeal. For both staff and patients, messages can be viewed when it’s convenient. And text messages can be either real-time or automated, making it ideal for most healthcare communications. Text can really be used across the entire patient experience:
- Appointment reminders and instructions: Automated texts can be used for appointment reminders, allowing patients to easily confirm or respond to the message to change or cancel the appointment. Those reminders can also include detailed pre-visit instructions for things like park and text waiting, telehealth links, or what to do if the patient has COVID symptoms.
- Real-time pre-screening: Two-way text can be used to reach out to patients who haven’t confirmed to not only confirm the appointment but also to pre-screen patients with a few questions about COVID symptoms.
- Answer questions: Patients have many questions now about new safety protocols in addition to the usual questions about insurance coverage or directions. While a phone call can take several minutes, the average text takes just seconds. Encouraging patients to text questions is more convenient and responses can be pre-set for many common questions to save time.
- Digital intake: No one wants to pick up a clipboard right now. Even before COVID, over 50 percent of patients said they preferred a doctor who let them complete forms online. Send digital intake forms through text to make it easy for patients to complete them at home. You can add COVID pre-screening and other forms to your usual packet.
- Patient follow-up: Use real-time text to check on patients after a procedure or discharge from the emergency department or urgent care. It’s a good way to remind them what to do if they have any complications.
- Communicate changes quickly: Anything can happen right now. If there is an unexpected closure or a change to the process for check-in, sending a group text to all the patients being seen that day (or week) is much faster than trying to call.
- Surveys and reviews: Automated or real-time text can be used to request reviews or ask patients to complete a post-visit survey. It’s fast and easy and patients are often logged into Google or Facebook on their phone already.
- Recall: Automated recall is an incredibly effective tool for filling the schedule, and recall reminders can be sent via text or email. As organizations work to recover revenue, real-time text can also be effective. Reach out directly to patients who have been hard to reach to schedule needed care.
- Address barriers: If patients are cancelling appointments or not responding to outreach, consider texting directly to ask why. Is there something you can do to help? It may be fear about COVID or problems with insurance coverage or transportation. A simple, friendly chat over text may be enough to help address the issue or problem-solve to get them in.
There are a lot of ways to use text messaging to connect with patients and keep the lines of communication open. Most patients would like to have text as an option because they believe it is more convenient. Currently, it can also provide a better experience by letting patients stay in touch, be prepared, get questions answered, and access the care they need.
If you missed the EXPO.health Digital Transformation Experience, be sure to check out the recording that includes Ed Marx, myself, and a panel of experts discussing this and other important Digital Transformation topics.
About Dan Simenc:
Dan Simenc is the chief revenue officer at SR Health by Solutionreach, where he focuses on the growth of SR Health and its role in improving patient engagement in hospitals and health systems across the country. Dan has vast experience in interoperability, clinical and operation systems, and other process-oriented areas in enterprise healthcare. Simenc comes to Solutionreach from Lyniate, formerly Corepoint Health, which was ranked number one in KLAS for the past 11 years. Prior to that, he served in senior leadership roles with 3M Health Information Services, Picis, Eclipsys (now Allscripts), and McKesson. He’s a husband and father of two who likes to work hard and play hard.