If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s this: Modern communications technology helps keep us together, even when it’s difficult or impossible to meet in person. For us as healthcare professionals, this means that telehealth and other alternative methods of communicating with patients, or even treating them, have become critical.
Of course, patient connections have always been important. A critical part of medical care has always been building trust and rapport with patients, or they wouldn’t pay us for our help (or listen to our suggestions). However, the world of constant electronic communication has proven to be a mixed blessing: Where we used to only reach out to our clients for appointment reminders, now we need to keep up with the digital-first reality of online reviews and electronic billing.
In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why older methods of patient outreach and retention don’t work as well as they used to. Then, we’ll look at how patients prefer texting, and how this outreach method increases loyalty.
Older Patient Outreach Practices Don’t Work Well Anymore
If you still have a landline phone, chances are that you understand why older patient outreach practices are struggling: about half the time, when the phone rings it’s a scam call. Many of the other calls are legitimate telemarketers or pollsters seeing what they can find out. While older patients might have a higher percentage of legitimate callers, younger ones use the answering machine or voicemail to screen for the few “real humans” out there-including your office. And there’s no telling when they will check voicemail. It’s almost like the boy who cried wolf: the legitimate calls get ignored because of the scams.
Similarly, email communications must contend with spam and “promotional email” folders. This means that your appointment reminder can easily end up getting filed where you patient won’t see it-like the promotional folder or the spam filter. If your email ends up in the right place, it still must contend with all the other “important” emails vying for patient attention. And that’s if your patient has access to email.
Finally, reminder postcards are clumsy. With the Post Office increasing mail service times and skipping rural delivery days, it’s getting harder to reach people this way in a timely manner. And even if they arrive in time, postal mail frequently doesn’t get the follow up you need, such as a call to set an appointment.
Text Messaging Works Well In an Age of Spam
Here’s the thing: although spam text messages exist, it’s easy to block the senders. The same thing goes with spam callers on a cellphone. The result: there’s less spam over time, if a phone owner is diligent. This is a major advantage for medical practices that use text messages to reach out to their patients. Why? Because the text message is more likely to get read and responded to. In fact, it’s well-known that people almost always read their text messages. And while the spam gets deleted, the legitimate ones often get a response.
Think of text messages as the digital equivalent to hand-written cards or notes given to someone a few decades ago.
Younger Consumers Prefer Text Messages
While older patients are (mostly) set in their ways and often want to get reminders the old fashioned way, texting has gained traction even with them. After all, the proliferation of smartphones extends to more than 80% of the American population, and over 90% of us have a cellphone of some kind. For older people, their cellphones are an important window to the world-and their grandkids. Even they, therefore, can benefit from text message communication.
However, the difference is more pronounced with younger patients. For most of Generation Z and a large percentage of Millennials, text messaging is a preferred method of communication-at least informally. Not only do friends and family use text messages, but text-based reminders are very popular for everything from appointments to loan payments.
Notice how loan and appointment reminders are part of the text messaging universe now? The beauty of text messaging for business is that it can help you communicate with someone in real time. Appointment reminders can be set up with a landing page to confirm or cancel the appointment-similarly to most modern medical reminders. Likewise, a loan communication frequently has a page where customers can view their loan details.
But why is so much done by text messaging? Because it’s popular and effective. Younger consumers find that text messaging is great for brief reminders, even more than email. After all, texts have a special place in their phone. And, many people read and respond to text messages during their commute, such as a bus or subway ride, walking down the street, and even in elevators. Whenever younger people have a second, they’ll often check their phone.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why text messaging is so popular with young consumers: they only take a few seconds to deal with. So, if your patient is really busy, they’ll have time to at least read and respond to your email. Plus, with such a small format, people don’t need to say much in order to reply adequately to a text message. Everyone wins.
Texting Your Patients Decreases No-Shows
In part due to the ubiquity of text messages and their ease of use, many medical offices find that there are fewer no-shows with text reminders. You can send a text a day or two from the appointment as usual, but you can also send one a few hours ahead. The advantage is that your patient gets a reminder during their workday, so the appointment isn’t forgotten about during the routine of meetings and emails. Plus, you can include a landing page to confirm the appointment, thereby getting an instant response.
Texting Your Patients Increases Repeat Visits
Another way that text messages increase patient loyalty is by encouraging them to make an appointment on the spot. With a properly worded text message that uses a landing page, you can get them to make an appointment literally during their break. When your patient doesn’t have to sit on the phone and wait on hold, it makes them more likely to make that appointment-and not go somewhere else that lets them view the available spots on the provider’s calendar. In other words, using a text message to help set appointments is really easy, and everyone wins.
Text Messaging Automation Decreases Staff Workload
Besides being great for patients, text messaging works well with your staff, too. If the secretary doesn’t need to catch your patient on the phone then there’s a lot less work for them. And since these texts are automated through a service provider, there’s very little staff work required. All they really have to do is ensure that the right texts go to the right patients, and at the right time. Software takes care of the rest, including adding the appointment to your provider calendar, because the programs interface with an API.
Text Messaging Increases Patient Loyalty
Recently, it has become clear that patients prefer to do business-including getting medical treatment-with companies they consider the easiest to work with. For providers, this means that they don’t have to sit on the phone for half an hour waiting for a secretary to answer. Or call back to make an appointment, or deal with paper “snail mail.” Instead, with text messaging (and to a lesser extent email), patients can perform most healthcare-related tasks almost in real time. About the only time they’d have to call your office is for a last-minute appointment change or a medical question. These are the practices that younger patients in particular prefer.
Text Messages Encourage Patient Reviews
Finally, text messaging can be used to encourage reviews and other marketing activity like surveys. A smart medical office will send a text message to a patient after the appointment that encourages these activities. This text message should also include a link to perform the desired action. Over time, the proliferation of patient reviews and survey results help promote your practice and fine-tune procedures to be more patient friendly. In turn, this helps grow your practice and increase loyalty because patients like the way you treat them.
Text messaging has become a modern convenience that’s popular for friendly and personal business purposes alike. While texting was once a new technology that was mostly associated with teenagers “talking” to friends in class, this mode of communication has come into its own. Now, you can use texting for just about everything, from appointment reminders to marketing. With so many benefits, if you aren’t using text messages, you should be.