As patient experience not only defines quality of healthcare and becomes a core component, efforts will increase dramatically to better engage patients. So healthcare providers will be taking advantage of the wealth of new technology to improve care and engage patients through connected care and telehealth solutions.
But these patient engagement solutions must ensure patient safety. And patient safety means confidence of the patient for the security and privacy of their data, information, and communication. So it is not enough to “just” engage patients, it must be done so in a manner that is secure and through a device preferred by the patients.
A recent survey noted that patients find communication through emails or text messages from their doctors helpful. More specifically, they find value in messages that remind them of their appointments, guidelines for upcoming medical tests, or other useful health information.
Among the top criticisms of healthcare providers regarding their present state of engagement as indicated in the “Patient Attitudes Toward Healthcare on the Web Survey” , was the inability to contact healthcare professionals via the patient’s preferred method of contact. Regarding modes of communication, the survey also noted that mobile text messaging tops patient choice of communication choices.
Healthcare providers have started to leverage text messaging as a tool to improve the delivery of care and grow their practice. Texting, the most common form of communication and from our experience the most commonly requested form of patient communication, is also helping physicians stay connected with their patients to improve their patient experience.
Clearly, there’s value in using text messaging as a tool to engage patients in their healthcare, but only if done the right way. Here are ways to make sure the convenience, speed, and efficiency of text messaging will not cross lines and avoid pitfalls:
Define Protocols for Text Communication to Patients
It is important to determine from the get-go the types of information/interactions that you want to be communicated via text message to patients. The factors to some extent depend on the patient and the provider. As an example, straight forward interactions such as appointment reminders and confirmations are often sent out via text message.
But when text messaging is used through a patient engagement platform to support treatments, clinicians need to define and design the protocols for communication. Medical practices that use text messages for patient monitoring are best done through a secure platform, where the whole health care team are in one loop, and patient data is shared securely.
These secure systems enable messaging to patient that covers much more beyond appointment or medication reminders. In more advanced patient engagement technology, text communications to engage patient for interactive responses, health providers and/or community of care can be notified and interventions can be initiated.
Using these platforms, text messaging communication can be automated, but the protocols must be determined by clinicians to ensure the continuous exchange becomes an actual patient-doctor conversation and where the platform is essentially invisible.
The exchange of text messages through a patient engagement platform being a preferred means of communication helps reduce the barriers to engagement, co-producing better health and helping to avoid adverse health events. The information exchange and collected from those interactions should give a more holistic view of the patient.
Consent is vital in healthcare. It’s the operative word in patient-provider relationship.
Healthcare information interactions, even as simple as appointment reminders that are more often being sent out by text messages, require patient consent.
More specifically, patient’s consent is needed for any form of communication when you are to engage and connect with him beyond face-to-face consultations, before, after and between visits.
As much as consent is about respect for the patient’s privacy, it is also about the patient’s right to choose the way and method to communicate. There is a personal element to text messaging as a method of communication and even when given a wide choice of means to communicate, patients overwhelming choose text messaging as a means to reach them. Of course, that is today. Tomorrow, who knows?
Be Mindful of Time
In text messaging, being mindful of when, how much, how often to send and how quickly to respond make a good patient experience.
For simple appointment reminders and confirmations, whether it’s generated from an automatic system, best practice is to send at acceptable times of the day. And do not barrage patients with text messages when they have not replied, the system must be set up in a way that another method of communication can follow up, confirm or acknowledge receipt of the message such as email or a phone call.
In patient engagement platforms, when the technology is used adjunct to behavior management, a non-response is considered a response and can trigger alerts to the healthcare provider and/or community of care. Communication platforms such as LifeWIRE can automate messages, measure non-responses, clinicians or patients can set the time, the frequency, the number of text messages, content and response types according to treatment protocols and patient needs.
For a procedure such as post-op texts, consider the situation where rest and recovery may be needed so make sure text messages are not going out too early in the morning or late at night. Or better yet, opt to hold off and give it a day before sending a follow-up message.
Text messaging means instant communication, so instant responses are also expected. When communicating with patients through text messages, clinicians should consider the national average text response is 90 seconds, and our experience is actually around 28 seconds. This requires a patient engagement platform that is designed for immediate interactions and volumes for automating such dialogue between patients and healthcare providers.
Texting is more personal than professional in terms of communication. But in communicating care, texting crosses the line from professional patient engagement to personalized care. While technology enables an automated dialogue, communicating to patients should not come off as too impersonal or robotic.
Texting is meant to be conversational and friendly. In healthcare, interactions should be personalized whether in-person or through text. Personal touches in a text message can be as simple as addressing the patient by their first name, having the same tone as your emails, and using the same voice as your phone calls.
Interactive dialogue through text messages can do away with formalities like greetings and signatures of care coordinators, schedulers, nurses and clinicians. Patient engagement whether in-person or through text, patients should get the same feeling that creates a comfortable environment and prompts better responses.
Though friendly, to be engaging text messages should be short, to the point. But never compromise clarity with brevity. In communicating care, it is important to be clear. Messages must be written in clear terms, not shortened terms such as medical shorthand (e.g., ‘PO’, ‘prn’) and text shorthand (e.g., ‘2b’ for ‘to be’ or ‘4’ instead of ‘for’).
Texting is quick and easy communication, and patients expect the same from clinician’s message. Easy communication also means understandable, accessible and comprehensible and that means using common language.
Text messaging in healthcare should generally be structured such that patients can respond with very few words like a “Yes” or “No”, or phrases like “My BP is high.”, but still have the flexibility of longer form interactions and the ability to parse those responses.
With brevity comes CTA, or Call-to-Action. It makes short messages clear. It’s best to ask patients what they may want or need to do, don’t assume they know. Tell them straight to do whatever action you desire for them to take. Explicitly guide them to act upon what you’re telling them.
When doctors keep patient messages to the point, patients may be more inclined to be thoughtful of the doctor’s time and this establishes a helpful boundary between doctor and patient.
Even when offered a myriad of communication choices, patients overwhelmingly choose text messaging as a means to communicate with their healthcare providers. Though text messaging is ubiquitous, there are many issues to manage to ensure both highest levels of engagement as well as ensuring security and privacy. #BeLifeWIREd