Patient Care Access News

How Text Messaging Can Transform Patient-Provider Communication

Text messaging brings out a critical element to patient-provider communication: convenience.

By Sara Heath

At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, patient-provider communication is a key part of driving patient engagement. Text messaging may be crucial to pushing that even further.


Through a web of patient communications technologies, Cedars-Sinai employees have worked to connect with patients through telephone lines and patient portals. However, according to Mary Clare Lingel, vice president of operations at Cedars-Sinai, these efforts aren’t always convenient for patients.

“None of [the communication platforms], from my perspective or potentially from the patient perspective, are wonderfully convenient,” Lingel told in an interview.

“We all tend to have very busy lives, especially working professionals with families. It is difficult to get on the phone with our providers during the day, so we’re looking at all ways in which we can expand access for our patients to us when they need the access.”

Lingel and her colleagues at Cedars Sinai sought to implement a more convenient communications platform, and found that in WELL, a secure text messaging platform. Through the text messaging platform, Lingel and front-end hospital staff have been able to better manage patients and meet patients where it is best for them.

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“The new technologies and new innovations have allowed the patient to put the dialogue squarely in their court,” she said.

“So they can reach out to us when it is convenient to them. When you have a patient in that situation, you’re going to have a more meaningful dialogue with them and you’re going to engage in meeting their needs more effectively.”

A reminder about a scheduled appointment is likely to sink in better when the patient seeks it out herself. Likewise, a patient may be more apt to adopt a new behavior if it addresses a self-reported health concern.

And because text message responses are so immediate, the platform allows providers to address concerns right away, as opposed to an email or patient portal message.

“When we think about how we interact with technology today, texting is a really beautiful method,” Lingel explained. “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.”

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The immediacy of text messages allows patients and providers to delve deeply into conversation and answer questions quickly and efficiently.

“We really do respond to our texts in a very organic, seamless conversation. So that opens up all sorts of possibilities for physician practices to be able to directly reach out to their patients real-time,” Lingel explained.

Text messaging doesn’t just better serve patient needs, however. According to Lingel, the new texting platform seamlessly integrates into hospital staff workflows.

“I didn’t have to think about collecting email addresses, which can be challenging. We have our patients’ phone numbers,” Lingel noted. “We’re already communicating with our patients over their primary phone numbers, and texting is another door that WELL has opened up for us to have real-time communication with our patients.”

The platform also has the ability to triage incoming messages. If a patient has a question about her appointment time, that text message forwards to a front-end staffer. If a patient has a clinical question, the message forwards to a physician or nurse practitioner.

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These capabilities are crucial at a busy physician practice or hospital. It is important that hospitals coordinate the correct efforts with the correct skill set, ensuring that all staff members are doing what they are trained for.

Going forward, Lingel hopes texting platforms move further into the clinical realm. Cedars-Sinai is currently able to answer appointment scheduling questions or fast health questions, but in the future Lingel hopes they can do much more.

“The real potential in my mind is going to be in the future developments and the things that we’re working on right now to help push out information to patients regarding more in-depth clinical conversation,” Lingel said.

Patients heading into surgery can learn more about  preparation and recovery protocols, for example. Communicating through secure text message allows a dialogue to blossom and patients can freely ask questions. This may help them absorb the information better than they would via traditional tactics such as handouts or online portal pages.

“Traditionally we’ve given the patient that information, we hope that they read it, we reach out to them to find out if they’ve read it, we try to engage them in that dialogue,” Lingel explained.

“The texting platform is going to make it more convenient for patients to actually digest that information and ask us the questions as they’re learning what they need to learn. It becomes a conversation rather than pushing information out and waiting for a response. That has huge potential when it comes to clinical outcomes.”

Lingel says she thinks the text messaging strategy could spread quickly. As soon as patients and providers both see the benefits, more and more users could adopt text messaging communications. Given that logic and Lingel’s experiences, that ubiquitous adoption could happen soon.

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