Texting is the preferred method of personal communication, and it’s rapidly becoming the top healthcare industry method of patient communication.
“We no longer need to make the case for texting as an industry communication workflow because of how widely its been adopted by providers and patients alike,” says Josh Weiner, chief executive officer at SR Health by Solutionreach. “At this point, we’ve moved on to making the case that it should be at the center of every perfect appointment workflow.”
Q: In Part 1 of our conversation about creating the perfect workflow you explained how things have changed. Patients have different expectations and providers need to rebuild relationships and get patients in for the care they need. Why is text messaging an important part of that process?
A: Texting is ideal for engaging patients in their care because of its widespread acceptance and the immediacy it brings to patient-provider workflows. Industry research indicates that 95% of texts are opened and responded to within three minutes, making it perfectly suited for appointment scheduling workflows where providers must react quickly to changing patient circumstances. For providers, the case for using text-based communication instead of the phone is clear—while 99% of text messages are opened, 90% of patients don’t answer their phone and 20% don’t check their voicemail. As for patients, SR Health research indicates that 80% want to receive texts from their provider, and 75% would like to be able to text their provider.
Texting also offers the benefit of efficiency when used in scheduling workflows. According to Accenture, a typical scheduling phone call takes approximately eight minutes, while sending a text takes just 30 seconds. Texting offers time savings that allow providers to reduce manpower and operating costs, while also improving patient experience around the scheduling process.
Q: Is text really a tool that can be across the patient journey?
A: The range of applications for text-based solutions is quite broad, and we have yet to encounter a healthcare workflow where texting isn’t a good fit. When used for scheduling, providers are able to communicate in real time throughout the entire process. This includes setting the original appointment, sending automated meeting reminders, rescheduling appointments as conflicts arise, communicating patient instructions, and handling the digital registration and check-in process. After the appointment takes place, text can be used for things like follow-up instructions, patient satisfaction surveys, and billing.
Note that a typical billing workflow involves sending a text to the patient with a link to a portal where the actual payment transaction takes place. This is similar to the way that scheduling interactions can be achieved, with a link taking the patient to an online calendar. Texting can also be used for more transactional communications such as informing a patient when they need to call a care provider or nurse to discuss a health issue or lab test.
Q: Are there concerns about HIPAA privacy and security with texting?
A: The simple answer is that in most circumstances HIPAA is not a concern when texting. This is because most patients really like the convenience of texting with their provider and have no problem granting consent. Plus, the majority of automated text messages are exempt from HIPAA regulations and providers don’t need patient consent to use them. Examples of exempt automated text messages include appointment reminders, care instructions, and educational messages.
For text messages where protected health information (PHI) is used by providers, patients must first give consent for its use. Conversely, patients have no limitations if they want to initiate a text-based discussion with their provider using PHI, although it is up to providers to ask for patient consent to continue the discussion using an unsecure method of communication. If a patient doesn’t wish to give consent, the discussion can be moved either to a secure texting app—SR Health offers a secure browser environment in these circumstances based on simply clicking a link—or to the phone or provider’s office.
Q: What about older patients? Will they really use text messaging?
A: We have been pleasantly surprised by the level of text adoption by older patients, and our approach remains a text-first strategy. Older patients adapted to e-mail years ago and have transitioned to texting fairly quickly, with smartphone companies making things easier through accessibility features such as larger screens and font sizes as well as the use of speech-to-text technology. According to a Pew Research Center study, 90% of Americans aged 65 and older own a cellphone, meaning that texting is widely available to older patients. In fact, research indicates that 86% of Americans over age 50 communicate via texting.
Director, Marketing Programs
SR Health by Solutionreach