More than six billion texts are sent every day in the United States. That amounts to about 180 million every month and 2.27 trillion each year. 

The number probably doesn’t seem so surprising, given that most Americans own a cell phone, including the 85 percent or so who use a smartphone. More than one-third of U.S. adults prefer texts to other forms of communication, which explains why most people open these messages within three minutes of receiving them.

It also explains why phone call answers and email open rates continue to decrease. Although text messaging produces contact rates of up to 99 percent, only 18 percent of people say they listen to a voicemail from a number they don’t recognize. 

Texting in Healthcare 

Consumers of healthcare aren’t exempt from this trend. More than 95 percent of patients prefer texting for healthcare communication and feel more connected to their clinical care team when receiving text communication from their provider. A 2021 medical study reported 70 percent adherence of patients to their providers’ instructions after receiving motivational messages through text. 

Using this data, more and more healthcare providers along with other industry entities are employing text messaging in their patient engagement strategy. According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) 68 percent of surveyed medical practices are using some form of text messaging to communicate with patients. 

Provider Misconceptions About Text Messaging Among Seniors and Minorities 

A common misconception among healthcare providers is that only millennials and other young individuals use text messaging for healthcare communication. While it’s true that millennials are 40 times more likely to act via text, adoption of key technologies by individuals in the oldest age group has certainly grown in the past decade. 

More than 83 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 report owning a smartphone, and approximately half of them have a mobile tablet. Roughly two-thirds of Americans aged 50-64 send or receive text messages, and about one-quarter of those over 65 use texting. 

Many in these age groups don’t only text, they also use other newer technologies, including digital health tools. They might be somewhat more anxious than the younger population regarding technology but they believe its benefits outweigh the costs and challenges. There’s research to back this up: a study of older adults found that greater technology use was associated with better self-rated health, fewer chronic conditions, higher subjective well-being and lower depression. 

Another misconception among healthcare providers is that minorities, for the most part, don’t engage in text messaging. Minority and low-income individuals have a high level of cell phone adoption and typically utilize features such as text messaging. African-Americans and Hispanics are not only more likely to text than their white counterparts but also send and receive more messages on an average day. 

Why, then, are these populations not targeted by providers in outreach through text messaging? Why are members of racial and ethnic minorities less likely than whites to receive preventive health services and lower-quality care? The answer might lie in the lack of digital literacy common among people of Black or Hispanic origin. 

Steps to Achieve Digital Literacy Among Patient Populations 

Similar to health literacy —the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions — digital literacy is the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem. 

The four competence levels of digital literacy in healthcare consist of:

  • Functional: the ability to successfully read and write about health using technological devices
  • Communicative: the ability to control, adapt and collaborate communication about health with others in online social environments
  • Critical: the ability to evaluate the relevance, trustworthiness and risks of sharing and receiving health-related information through the digital ecosystem
  • Translational: the ability to apply health-related information from the digital ecosystem in different contexts 

Digital literacy is especially important in healthcare because if information providers give to patients isn’t in their preferred language or they don’t have the tools necessary to access it, it won’t be helpful. A lack of digital literacy could result in health inequities, a problem social determinants of health (SDOH) programs strive to address. 

There are multiple steps providers can take to improve the digital health literacy of their patients, thereby ensuring each one understands the messaging and is able to utilize it. For example, the Telehealth Equity Coalition advises that providers ask patients if they own a device that can host a patient engagement app, use email, know how to download an app or browse or change camera settings. 

Providers should ensure patients understand why it’s important for them to use a digital health tool and how it can improve their health. When selecting what technologies to employ as part of their patient engagement strategy, they should ensure it meets the needs of patients with barriers to digital literacy. Recommendations about keeping protected health information (PHI) should be part of the conversation.

Promoting Patient Engagement Through HIPAA-Compliant Two-Way Text Messaging 

When digital literacy is achieved, providers can better utilize technology tools such as HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging to achieve numerous benefits, including effectively communicating test results, improving adherence with recommended treatment, mitigating no-shows and cancellations and sharing accurate and up-to-date information about treatment and safety issues. Talk with our solutions team to understand how CareMessenger will enhance your patient engagement.