How SMS Alerts Improve Doctor-Patient Communication

For most people, health is a priority; it's just not the only priority. As a result, preventative healthcare often gets pushed to the back burner, especially when getting that care is inconvenient. Scheduling hassles, long wait times, calling to follow up on lab results, and then calling back the next day (and the next) — all of these are inconvenient.

A smiling woman holds a mobile phone while engaging in doctor-patient communication
SMS alerts with appointment reminders, satisfaction surveys, and patient education are a great way to improve doctor-patient communication between office visits.

Modern medical practices are looking to technology for ways to optimize scheduling, get more people in the door, and improve the patient experience. And improving doctor-patient communication is a big part of that — not just in the exam room, but between visits, too.

One solution to this challenge is personalized SMS alerts.

Take Two Aspirin, and I'll Text You in the Morning

In the digital age, doctor-patient communication is about more than a physician's bedside manner. It's also very much about the practice's customer service.

For a study published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management, Vanguard Communications analyzed nearly 35,000 reviews of physicians throughout the United States. Overall, the reviews were positive — 61 percent of respondents gave their physicians' offices five stars — but when people did complain, 96 percent of their gripes were related to customer service, not quality of care. The top two complaints:

  • Communication: 53 percent

  • Long wait times: 35 percent

There's good reason for communication gaps and snafus. Faced with growing patient populations and ever-evolving administrative requirements, physicians' practices are busier than ever. At the same time, consumers have become accustomed to seamless multichannel communication and instant access to information, and their expectations for healthcare providers have shifted accordingly.

Of course, physicians' offices have many patients and zero time to spare. But with automated, personalized texting, they can keep all those patients engaged and informed — at scale.

Bottom line: SMS alerts give patients the flexibility to communicate with physicians in a way that's convenient and comfortable for them.

5 Ways to Use SMS Alerts for Improving Doctor-Patient Communication

These text messaging strategies can help to improve doctor-patient communication and boost patient engagement.

1. Optimize Scheduling

It's often more convenient to send a text message than to make a call. The caller doesn't need a quiet space, doesn't get patched through to voicemail, and doesn't get put on hold. By letting patients schedule appointments, reschedule, and receive appointment reminders via text, practices make it easier for patients to handle the task when they think about it, rather than waiting until it's a good time to call. This boosts patient satisfaction, encourages them to keep coming back for preventative care, and cuts down on last-minute cancellations and no-shows. Given enough advance notice, physicians' offices can then text people on the wait list for appointments and fill the open slots, which prevents the practice from losing money while helping patients get treated more quickly.

2. Communicate Wait Time and Delays

Most people expect to wait at the physician's office, but waiting is always more frustrating when you don't know how long it will take. Text alerts with estimated wait time could help to ease some of that anxiety, especially when one look around the waiting room says it's going to be a long one. This also shows that while the physician is working as fast as they can, the practice respects patients' time enough to give them a choice: wait or reschedule.

3. Provide Ongoing Patient Education

Physicians can make recommendations about disease management and healthy living. Too bad they can't follow patients around to remind and encourage them to make better choices. With SMS alerts, they almost can. Patients can opt into automated text campaigns based on their unique condition or goal and receive SMS reminders to take medications, check insulin levels, eat a healthier breakfast, move more throughout the day, stop smoking, and so on. SMS alerts are also a great way to send patients links to disease-specific educational resources and articles. How's that for doctor-patient communication?

4. Direct Patients to a Secure Portal

There are some things physicians can't communicate via text, including test results and any other personal health information. They can (and many do) put this information into secure patient portals, along with discharge orders, medication lists, and a variety of other useful data. However, many patients don't think to look there. Instead, they get frustrated, call the office, and wait for a nurse to call back with information they could already access online. SMS alerts are a great way to let patients know they have messages or results waiting for them in the patient portal.

5. Survey Patients

Rather than mailing paper patient satisfaction surveys that people will fill out weeks after the appointment — if at all — physicians' offices can use SMS alerts to get feedback while the experience is still fresh in their minds. Practices can also improve their relationships with patients by getting input on big decisions — for example, "Would Saturday morning hours be valuable to you?" or "Would you be inconvenienced if we moved our office to this location?" — and even small decisions, such as, "Which brands of tea and coffee would you like us to stock in the waiting room?"

Bottom line: SMS alerts give patients the flexibility to communicate with physicians in a way that's convenient and comfortable for them. That goes a long way toward improving patient engagement and satisfaction.

To learn more about the benefits of SMS alerts and other healthcare solutions for doctors' offices.

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