Just because you text your patients doesn’t mean you’re getting through to them.
Texting in healthcare can improve patient experience, practice workflow, and your bottom line. Nevertheless, just blasting out appointment reminders and disseminating patient education texts won’t get you the results you’re looking for.
You need a strategic, data-driven approach — texts that actually work.
Here’s what we have learned helping some of the leading healthcare organizations optimize patient communications.
Define what you want to achieve
Every healthcare organization has unique goals, but most share a few objectives and key results:
- Improve appointment confirmation rates
- Reduce no-show rates
- Reduce call volume
- Increase survey response rates
- Increase portal enrollment
- Improve patient experience
A results-driven strategy for texting in healthcare can dramatically influence these metrics.
1. Choose the right cadence for texting in healthcare
For appointment reminders, we recommend sending three text messages until a patient confirms. Try a cadence of:
- 7 days
- 3 days
- 1 day
For example, if a patient confirms after the first message, they wouldn’t receive the remaining appointment confirmation requests.
Sending appointment reminders any further out than seven days is too far, and a patient is likely to forget their appointment.
After patients confirm, another reminder the day before is optional and especially helpful for practices that need to further reduce no-shows. Choose something short and friendly, like, “Hi Jennifer, we’re looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at 3PM at Dr. Primhava’s office.”
Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center implemented WELL and saw appointment confirmations rise by 220 percent and no-shows drop by 20 percent.
2. Limit the length of your patient text messages
It’s a text message, not a novel. Or a phone call. Or an email It’s tempting to try to fit everything you want to say to your patients in the first text message. But when a patient receives a text that’s too long, they ignore it.
“If it’s a paragraph, I don’t read it,” one patient told us flatly.
Instead, start with the essential communication. For most practices, that is the appointment reminder. The message should be no more than 160 characters. Any longer and the message may get split into two messages by carriers or your patients will tune you out.
Once a patient has confirmed, it’s okay to send additional material. Patients will read things that make their lives easier, such as pre-appointment instructions, a map and directions to your location, intake forms, or a link to pay their copay.
Again, don’t try to cram it all into one message.
3. Personalize patient text messages
You know many of the most personal details about your patients, not the least of which is their first name. Make sure you use it in your messaging.
Also, write to them, not about them. For example, say, “Hello Jeff, you have an appointment with Dr. Chase.” not, “Jeff has an appointment…”
In addition to using first names, express emotion in your texts, such as “We’re looking forward to seeing you.”
Patients should feel as if text messages are coming from a real person. The best patient communication platforms enable automations to handle routine conversation and staff to interject seamlessly for issues a bot can’t address.
If patients don’t know whether they’re talking to a person or a computer, then we’ve done our job well — because we can do both.— Emma Kaplan, Client Success Associate at WELL.
Finally, make sure your patients know who the messages are coming from. With WELL, messages are sent from your practice line, a number patients will recognize. Still, include your practice name, or better yet the provider’s name, in your message.
For example, “Hi Jen, this is Dr. Tibur’s office. We’re looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday at 9AM.”
4. Listen well
What happens when your patients text you back? What if they say something other than 1 for Yes or 2 for No? If the answer is nothing, then you need a platform that enables interactive patient communication.
Vista Community Clinic learned that patients were already texting their practice lines. The busy clinic simply wasn’t equipped to receive them or respond to them. As soon as WELL was implemented, patient messages began pouring in, rising from about 3,600 in VCC’s first month with the platform to nearly 25,000 six months later.
“We didn’t really notify people that they could text our main number. It just happened organically,” said Michelle Monroe, VCC’s Chief Operations Officer.
After implementing WELL, patient satisfaction also rose to 86 percent and total patient appointments rose by 14 percent.
5. Respond promptly
Assuming your platform does allow for two-way communication, how long does it take for your staff to respond? We recommend a maximum of 15 minutes to complete the conversation . Not every patient question can be solved within that time frame, of course, but most can.
With WELL, you can set up Quick Responses that allow staff to instantly answer common questions by selecting a response from pre-made templates.
For example, perhaps your practice handles colonoscopies. You already provide printed materials for patients. Nevertheless, you likely also field patient questions like, “What do I need to do before my appointment?”
Instead of requiring staff to manually answer each time, write a Quick Response that can be used for all patients, such as, “Three days before your appointment, begin eliminating foods with large amounts of fiber…”
WELL follows the best practices for texting in healthcare
Ultimately, you need to find the sweet spot that works for your practice. At WELL, we start with what we know about patients — which is a lot, we’ve sent out nearly a billion messages — and then optimize for your unique needs and objectives. ♥
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Pamela Ellgen is WELL’s Health Editor. She began her career in community journalism at The Asian Reporter and later covered business at The Portland Tribune. She is the author of more than a dozen published books and a graduate of Washington State University.