How to Increase Your Patient Engagement with SMS (Part 1)

February 5, 2018 Jeanette Stern

We live in a world where people can make a doctor's appointment any time you want one and get yourself there by your own car, public transport, or the convenience of a ride-sharing service. Yet somehow, no matter how much doctors urge their patients to come in on a regular basis, they somehow lose touch. For every family that comes in diligently once a year for their flu shot there are ten adults who simply don't make an appointment. They know they should see their doctor on a regular basis and that a yearly checkup is an absolute minimum but they just never quite get around to coming in. These are the bane of any active clinic or concerned physician who would like to actually take care of their patients.

To solve this critical lack of patient engagement, doctors have tried all sorts of things. They send postcards, emails, make personal phone calls, and even send holiday greeting cards with friendly reminders to make an appointment and still the majority of their absentee clients never make an appearance. The good news for exasperated physicians everywhere is that there's something new to try. SMS, also known as text messaging, reaches directly out to a patient's phone.

Text Messages vs Email

In the past twenty years, email has become the predominant way to contact your patients and it's great for a lot of medical purposes. Through email, you can share medical documents, get forms signed, and confirm appointments but these are all functions that only work with a patient that's already engaged. But what about the patients that never come in or respond to your emails? Chances are, they're not even opening the messages. According to Adobe, only 20 to 30 percent of all emails are ever opened at all. Even considering spam, that's a pretty low number but compared to text messaging, it's pocket change. Texts, in stark comparison, are opened a full 98% of the time, and 90% of texts are opened within three seconds of being sent.

With this kind of outreach power, you can finally get the word out to your absentee patients that your clinic is waiting for them and exactly how long it's been since their last checkup. This is especially important if some of your missing patients have a now unmonitored medical condition. Of course, to get started, first you need to collect patient phone numbers and permission to send text messages to them. Don't be surprised if a few give you their number but politely decline text updates. They probably have a limited number of texts each month and already have a plan to use them.

Preparing Your SMS Patient Network

Getting a text messaging system set up for all your patients should actually be much simpler than it sounds. You can use several avenues to collect the information and permission and all you need are two options on a form that your patients will regularly fill out. Include one blank section for a mobile phone number and one checkbox to opt into the SMS. Send out an email for your patients who respond to emails with a request for contact information update and include the opt-in checkbox. Include on your intake forms that patients fill out in the waiting room. You can even share through your social media that you have a new SMS system and invite patients to join. Any that do, you can begin sending helpful texts like appointment reminders, confirmations, and access codes.

SMS is by far one of the best ways to reach your clients wherever they might be. In the modern day, you can't count on your patients to check their mailbox, email, or even answer their phone but they do check their text messages almost reflexively. Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article where we'll talk about easy opt-in opportunities, patient tracking, and two-way SMS communication. For more on increasing your patient engagement, contact us today!

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How to Increase Your Patient Engagement with SMS (Part 2)
How to Increase Your Patient Engagement with SMS (Part 2)

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