Americans are busier than ever — at least it seems that way. Employees in the United States work on average more than 2,000 hours per year, and residents who sleep about eight hours a day get approximately 2,900 hours of sleep annually. No wonder 60 percent of Americans believe there are not enough hours in the day to complete their to-do list! 

With such a busy schedule, it’s easy to forget non-work obligations, including doctor’s appointments. Sometimes healthcare consumers need a little nudge to remind them of these office visits, which is why the number of healthcare providers who utilize automated appointment reminders continues to increase. 

Some automated appointment reminders are sent via email or over the phone, but the majority of them are distributed through secure two-way text messaging. Text messages also appear to be the leading choice of communication for patients — approximately 70 percent report that they want to receive texts for things like appointment confirmations, appointment reminders and pre-visit instructions. 

Why Text Messaging? 

Convenience is key to healthcare consumerism, and patients like the convenience of responding to text messages whenever and wherever they prefer. Text messaging also enables them to schedule an appointment or contact a provider online rather than having to wait on the phone. Lengthy wait times already are a big frustration for many patients. 

Roughly 68 percent of medical practices are using some form of text messaging to communicate with patients. Two-way text messaging offers providers and their teams a quick, affordable and scalable method to improve appointment attendance, fill scheduling gaps and increase medical compliance. With the right patient engagement platform, text messages can be integrated with a practice’s EHR to streamline time-consuming administrative tasks. One-way automation includes broadcast messages that can be delivered to patients, but it usually does not allow for custom reciprocation between patient and provider. 

What’s Wrong with Manual Patient Outreach? 

It previously was common for a healthcare provider’s front office staff to manually call each patient to remind them of and confirm their appointment. That process not only is extremely time-consuming but also is not scalable across large patient populations. Also, many calls go unanswered, leaving staff frustrated. 

Another inefficiency of manual appointment reminders is lost practice revenue from no-shows or screening avoidance. More importantly, this method typically leads to low patient visit volume and negatively impacts patient outcomes. 

How Do Patients — And Medical Groups — Benefit from Automated Text Message Reminders? 

At the most basic level, an appointment reminder sent via text allows patients to confirm if the date and time still fit into their schedule. When prompted by the reminder, they can reschedule their appointment if necessary. This lets provider staff fill the open slot with another patient who is waiting to get into the office sooner, resulting in more satisfied patients

Automated text messaging can be utilized to remind patients of more than just doctor’s appointments. Healthcare providers sometimes employ the technology to promote medication adherence and contactless check-in and deliver laboratory results

Another advantage of two-way provider-patient text messaging is reminding healthcare consumers to schedule routine preventive screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, and age-specific vaccinations. For example, lung cancer screening increases early detection, decreases mortality, commonly detects incidental findings in other organ systems, identifies other modifiable conditions associated with smoking and increases opportunities for tobacco cessation. 

Outreach to patients with chronic disease can be achieved with automated text messaging and may play a crucial part in facilitating their access to care. This approach delivers resources at scale to help patients demonstrate self-care and receive continuous support beyond the clinical setting. The AHRQ notes that text reminders can reduce missed appointments and help increase daily medication adherence in patients with chronic conditions. 

Outpatient continuity with a primary care physician has been linked to decreased emergency department use and hospitalizations, lower costs and higher patient and physician satisfaction. Secure, two-way automated text messaging makes it easier for providers to communicate with patients and engage with them at every step of their journey through the care continuum. It also mitigates care gaps in the patient journey, enabling healthcare providers to keep more patients healthy, achieve value-based targets and increase revenue. 

Physicians and their staff are responsible for multiple administrative tasks that can lead to burnout. By using automated text messaging, they can streamline tedious tasks — with greater speed and accuracy — allowing patients to get in and out of the office faster, which improves their experience. Doing so gives them more time to perform revenue-generating activities, like meeting with patients or providing service recovery, and alleviates some stress when labor resources are inadequate. 

Are There Best Practices for Utilizing Automated Text Messaging? 

Nearly 90 percent of healthcare organizations use automated reminders, whether it’s for reminding patients of upcoming appointments, sending laboratory results or promoting preventive screenings. Not all providers, though, utilize them optimally. Following are five recommended tips for getting the most out of your practice’s automated text messaging solution:

  1. Ensure HIPAA compliance: Ensure that all your medical group’s employees, affiliates, physicians and third-party contractors and vendors know and apply HIPAA’s guidelines for keeping protected health information (PHI) secure. 
  2. Personalize when possible: Show your physician practice cares by communicating with patients in ways that are relevant to them and meet their preferences.                   
  3. Don’t let appointment slots go unused: Automated solutions, such as text messaging, can be employed to identify patients with a higher risk of not showing up for their appointment; This enables staff to proactively double-book so slots are not left unfilled.
  4. Don’t overdo it: Sending patients too many texts can do more harm than good, so it is best not to send more than three about an upcoming appointment. Also, avoid texting patients too early or late in the day.
  5.  Utilize a pre-determined message cadence: For automated appointment reminders, consider sending the first text message a week before the appointment, then one three days prior followed by one 24 hours before the scheduled visit. However, if your patient confirms his or her appointment after the first message, only the reminder text the day prior to the appointment is needed.

Are you looking to learn more? Uncover two additional text messaging best practices in this Providertech article.

Providertech’s HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging solution enables medical groups of all sizes to communicate with patients to close care gaps, help conduct chronic disease management, respond to routine requests, increase appointment attendance and more. Schedule a demo today to learn how our patient engagement platform can increase your practice’s operational efficiency and enhance patient care.