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Healthcare Orgs Tap Text Messages for Patient Appointment Reminders

Two-thirds of healthcare organizations have adopted text messages to send patient appointment reminders, new research shows.

text message patient appointment reminders

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Two-thirds of healthcare organizations use text messages for patient appointment reminders, in many cases meeting patient preferences for office communication, according to a recent Medical Group Management Association poll.

The poll of over 1,600 healthcare organizations found that 66 percent of organizations have adopted text message technology to send appointment reminders to their patients. In many cases, text message adoption came at the behest of a clinic’s patient populations.

While most organizations use text messages exclusively for appointment confirmation, a small few allow patients to confirm, cancel, or request a reschedule via text.

For most organizations, patients opt into the text message appointment reminders, meaning this function will suit patient preferences. While the practice offers patients other options for receiving appointment reminders – including email and phone call – most patients opt with text messages.

Organizations added that text messaging is usually the most effective strategy for patient appointment reminders.

Twenty-four percent of organizations have not adopted text message patient appointment reminders. Most of those organizations said they do not have the technology available to send automated text messages and exclusively use phone calls or email as appointment reminders.

Smaller organizations say they rely on the hospital’s own texting capabilities if they are a part of a larger health system. Other organizations cited physician resistance to text messaging as a barrier to adoption.

Several organizations that have not implemented text message reminders said they found messaging systems to be more expensive than phone calls or emails. For those organizations, the impact of text messages was not as great as the cost savings reportedly yielded from phone calls and emails.

Going forward, 7 percent of respondents said they were interested in or planning on implementing text message patient appointment reminders. One percent of respondents said they are unsure of whether they will adopt text messaging or not.

Although many healthcare organizations have found success with text messages to patients, these tools need to be deployed judiciously. Security and HIPAA-compliance is essential, according to MGMA Consulting Principal Nick Fabrizio, PhD, FACMPE, FACHE.

Additionally, it is important that organizations utilize text messaging best practices to ensure the messages are truly effective.

Only including necessary information and sending as few texts as possible will keep the patient from becoming bombarded by messages, Fabrizio said in a post accompanying the poll results. Organizations that have opt-in messaging policies or that obtain patient consent before sending messages tend to yield more patient satisfaction with the tool.

Organizations should also use secure texting tools that are HIPAA compliant. Messages should avoid including PHI in any form at all times, Fabrizio advised.

Healthcare organizations have likely adopted text messaging platforms because texts are both convenient and ubiquitous. Ninety-five percent of all US adults own a mobile cell phone of some sort, according to a February 2018 report from Pew Research. Seventy-seven percent of Americans own a smartphone.

The widespread adoption of cell phones has made text messaging a pillar of everyday communication, according to Mary Clare Lingel, vice president of operations at Cedars-Sinai. When Cedars-Sinai implemented text messages as both appointment reminders and another form of patient-provider communication, the organization acknowledged that text messages are a more meaningful way of getting a message to a patient.

“When we think about how we interact with technology today, texting is a really beautiful method,” Lingel explained in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “One of the first things that we talked about was how on any given day any of us might have over 100 emails waiting for our attention. But there’s no time in a given day where you have 100 texts sitting there.”

Healthcare organizations can tap some automation tools that send out text message appointment reminders to patients at standard intervals. These tools, which sometimes come part in parcel with patient portal suites, make it easier for both patients and providers to keep track of patient appointments.

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