Want Better Patient Engagement? Send a Text!

By Innovista Health Sep 13, 2023

Every year, Americans send approximately 2 trillion text messages. With more than 80% of people checking their text notifications within five minutes, text messaging is an effective, rapid form of communication.  

Most messages are personal, but texting is also a convenient tool for businesses to reach customers. In fact, healthcare leads the way, accounting for 55% of business-related messages, with roughly 80% of patients preferring to communicate with their doctors via text. 

According to Steve Alger, vice president of healthcare applications at Innovista Health, practices can vastly improve patient engagement by building a text messaging campaign. 

“Fostering this type of communication between practices and patients really builds trust,” he says. “It empowers patients to take proactive control of their health.” 

Investing in a well-designed text messaging initiative can lead to better patient outcomes. By working with a partner, practices can create efficient systems without adding to their workload. 

Why Patient Engagement Matters 

Good long-term health outcomes depend heavily on patients receiving the services they need. That includes seeing their doctor for annual checkups and taking their medications correctly 

“Engaging with patients about their upcoming screening services or overdue annual wellness visits is crucial for their health and well-being,” Alger says. “It helps detect potential health issues early, enabling providers to recommend the best treatments in a timely manner.” 

Unfortunately, up to 55% of patients across the country miss their primary care appointments. If they skip that visit, they’re 70% more likely to overlook a return visit within 18 months. Additionally, only around 50% of patients with chronic conditions take their medications correctly. So, there’s an ongoing need to encourage patients to keep up with their routine healthcare. 

Impact of Text Messaging Campaigns 

Recent research shows text messages can improve patient engagement for both primary care and preventive screenings, as well as mental health services. 

According to one study, text reminders for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screenings increased screening rates between 0.6% and 15%. The same is true for patients who need primary or mental health care. Using a text messaging campaign reduced their missed appointments by 7% and 11%, respectively. It also decreased same-day primary care cancellations by 6% 

Best Practices for Creating a Text Messaging Campaign 

Text messaging campaigns encourage patients to be proactive about their health. However, digital communication is highly regulated, especially with patients. Practices need to consider several factors before they send out text reminders. When designing a campaign, practices should keep these factors in mind: 

  • Personalize messages: Address patients by their first name and write messages in their preferred language. Keep messages simple and avoid using complex medical terms that may be confusing. Include a phone number or other details to help patients schedule a visit or ask questions.
  • Be timely: Keep track of patients’ upcoming annual wellness or screening service visits. Consider sending the first message a week before their appointment, followed by another three days before. Cap the communication with a final reminder 24 hours before the visit. In many cases, one yearly text reminder before an annual check-up is enough.
  • Protect privacy: Cellular networks aren’t HIPAA-compliant, but practices can take steps to keep patient information secure and confidential. Consider letting patients opt in to receive digital communication via the release form they sign when they join a practice. Additionally, leverage any electronic medical record (EMR) functionality to send patients an initial text, driving them to a secure, encrypted messaging portal.  
  • Limit texts: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act limits businesses to three weekly text messages, with only one message sent per day. Messages must be concise—keep them to under 160 characters. Be sure to give patients a way to opt out of receiving texts whenever they want to.
  • Segment populations: Although it’s a heavy lift, analyze the patient data saved in EMRs to categorize patients into specific segments. Doing so ensures patients only receive messages relevant to their health needs. For example, create a list of which patients need annual well visit reminders and which would benefit from a text about a mammogram, colonoscopy, or other screening.  

The Importance of a Text Messaging Partner 

Practice staff members are already stretched thin between patient care needs and administrative responsibilities. Asking them to oversee a comprehensive text messaging campaign can be overwhelming. This is where a partner like Innovista can be helpful. They can assume responsibility for segmenting patient groups and scheduling each text send. 

“Many practices are already burned out and overburdened. Often, they don’t have the technology capabilities in-house nor the desire to build out a text messaging campaign themselves,” Alger says. “A partner can manage this year-round, day-to-day interaction with patients. We aim to streamline the process, take the administrative burden off practices, and allow them to focus on patient care. Text messaging is a great way to do that.”