At a Glance
- Text messaging is an effective tool for engaging patients, with 51% preferring it over phone calls.
- When implementing text messaging, follow rules and obtain patient consent, choose a HIPAA-compliant platform, plan for its use, and establish a workflow for incoming messages.
- Effective text messaging can boost appointment volume, improve patient satisfaction, and support practice growth, offering convenience and engagement for patients and providers.
Today’s patients want convenience. As a digital tool that facilitates this simplicity, text messaging can drive patient engagement and loyalty. A majority 51% of consumers prefer to engage with brands via text rather than phone call, according to the Bankless Times. Businesses that do not text — that don’t realize patients wonder how to text their doctor — may struggle to stay connected with customers. On the flip side, less than 1% of text messages go unread and 90% are read within 3 minutes of receipt.
Conversely, 91.5% of emails are typically ignored. Senders who use longer subject lines and personalize the emails, decrease that to an unread average of 68%. That’s still a monumental gap from text messaging’s 1% of unread communications.
This means that offering text messaging as a healthcare practice is a convenient, effective way to reach patients, especially those who might be wondering how to text their doctor.
Yet using text messaging in healthcare isn’t as simple as texting friends and family. Here's how to implement text messaging at your practice and ensure that patients know how to text their doctor.
Best practices for teaching patients how to text their doctor
Although many patients want to know how to text their doctor rather than receive a phone call, there are some best practices to follow.
Step 1: Know the rules
Texting patients is subject to varying regulations, and consent is required. When a patient gives you their phone number through, for instance, an online booking or intake form, doing so is considered sufficient consent to receive appointment reminders by SMS message. Even so, asking for explicit consent to contact patients by text is always a good idea.
Patients must be able to opt out of further text messages from your practice at any time. Your platform of choice should enable this. For instance, with Tebra, automated texts include a keyword for opting out, enabling patients to unsubscribe with a single-word reply.
Because text messages are not encrypted, do not include protected health information (PHI) via text. However, if you warn your patients of the risks of communicating PHI over an unencrypted channel, and they consent to receive such texts, then text messaging can comply with HIPAA.
If you intend to use text messaging to send marketing messages of any kind, you need to obtain written consent. Including a consent form as part of your intake paperwork can be one way to receive it.
Without consent, you’ll risk hefty fines for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Check in with your legal counsel for clarification on these changing guidelines.
Step 2: Choose the right text messaging platform
Many applications can help businesses text their customers, but choosing the wrong one can create headaches for patients and staff alike.
As a baseline, any tool you use should comply with HIPAA. It should also streamline and keep track of your text messages. This type of solution makes it far easier for staff to respond to patients and reduces the risk of losing messages.
Consider text messaging solutions that can incorporate newer functionality for patients, such as web to text or call to text. This expands the access to your practice for current and prospective patients, giving them options for how to text their doctor and increasing your opportunity to book more appointments.
Step 3: Make a plan for your practice
While you can use text messaging for a myriad of purposes, define exactly how you will do so. Choose the specific uses thoughtfully to avoid overwhelming your patients with messages.
Some popular uses include:
If you’re concerned about message volume, start small and build your team's confidence and workflows. Then, you can expand over time.
Step 4: Ask patients for permission
Aside from regulatory requirements, it’s just common courtesy to ask your patients for consent to text them. Some may see unsolicited texting as a privacy violation, so getting permission is a best practice regardless of the rules in order to protect patient privacy.
For those who are interested, you might develop a short tutorial or fact sheet to share the process of “how to text your doctor.”
Be upfront and clear about how you plan to use text messaging. Be sure to highlight the benefits for patients, including saving time, eliminating phone tag, and delivering appointment reminders. Remember to ask for their consent to receive marketing messages separately from their consent to receive appointment reminders and communications.
Step 5: Establish an incoming message workflow
Evaluate the various message types you expect to exchange, such as appointment requests, questions for providers, or billing inquiries. Then designate a point person — or automated workflow — to respond to each. It’s important to manage the office inbox to ensure every message gets a response.
Equally important is the expectation you set with patients who are waiting for those responses. Establish response goals within your practice, and then share them with patients as part of your initial (sometimes automated) response. For example: “We’ve received your appointment request and will get back to you by the next business day.” Follow through, track your performance over time, and aim for improvement if response times start to increase.
Step 6: Be prepared
Prepare before you go live with a full text messaging strategy, brainstorm the most common questions among each type of message you expect to receive. For instance, questions could pertain to your hours or parking directions, conditions related to your specialty, what types of insurance you take, and whether you have upcoming availability. Then, write responses you can use as texts come in.
Personalize your messages so they don’t feel too stilted. Also, be prepared to refine your process as time goes on and you adjust to your new workflow. As with any new technology, change isn’t always easy but can deliver benefits over time.
Show patients how to text their doctor and boost appointment volume
Healthcare practices that implement text messaging effectively can meet patients’ demand for access convenience while driving loyalty and supporting practice growth.
Staying connected with patients using secure text messaging can drive appointment volume and satisfy patients, delivering a win-win for patients and practices alike.
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Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice.