The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Text a doctor? 10 best practices for offices and healthcare clinics

Patients want to know how to text their doctor. Here’s what you need to know about using text to communicate with your patients.

a patient who knows how to text their doctor

At a Glance

  • Text messaging is an effective tool for engaging patients, with 51% preferring it over phone calls.
  • When implementing text messaging, healthcare facilities must follow rules and obtain patient consent.
  • Effective text messaging can boost appointment volume, improve patient satisfaction, and support practice growth, offering convenience and engagement for patients and providers.
  • Teaching patients how to text a doctor is much easier when providing patients with best practices to follow.

Today’s patients value convenience. This is why many healthcare providers offer the option to text a doctor for non-emergency concerns. Text messaging — the digital tool that provides this convenience — can drive patient engagement and loyalty. According to a report by the Bankless Times, 51% of consumers prefer to engage with brands via text rather than phone call. Businesses that do not text — that don’t realize patients wonder how to text their doctor — may struggle to stay connected with customers.

Patients appreciate the convenience of being able to text a doctor for quick medical advice. Less than 1% of text messages go unread and 90% are read within 3 minutes of receipt. On the flip side, 91.5% of emails are typically ignored. Senders can improve the average of unread emails to 68% by using longer subject lines and personalizing the emails. That’s still a far cry from text messaging. This helps to show why offering text messaging as a healthcare practice is an effective way to reach patients.

Choosing a reliable text-a-doctor service

When selecting a reliable text-a-doctor service, healthcare providers should prioritize platforms that offer secure and encrypted communication channels to safeguard patient information. Additionally, they should ensure the service allows for comprehensive medical advice through text and offers options for texting a doctor for prescriptions when necessary.

Pros and cons of texting a doctor

Pros. Using a text-a-doctor service offers numerous benefits. It saves time by providing quick access to medical advice without the need for an in-person visit. Patients can communicate with healthcare providers from anywhere, at any time, reducing the need for travel or office visits. Practices can reduce the calls and voicemails the staff must process. Texting is faster and more convenient than talking on the phone, saving everyone valuable time. When phone lines are busy, existing patients and prospective new patients have the option to communicate with a practice via text message with call-to-text.

Cons. While texting is convenient, it can lack the depth of information obtained during face-to-face consultations. Misinterpretation of symptoms and the lack of a physical examination may lead to inaccurate diagnoses. Additionally, the potential for miscommunication or delayed responses can impact the quality of care and patient satisfaction.

Text a doctor vs. telemedicine

Text-a-doctor services primarily involve text-based communication between patients and healthcare providers for quick medical advice, prescription requests, and the exchange of routine information. Telemedicine, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of remote healthcare services, including video consultations, remote monitoring, and virtual appointments. While both offer remote access to healthcare, telemedicine typically involves more comprehensive interactions with health professionals, including visual assessments and real-time communication.

Best practices for texting with a doctor

Many patients prefer to text with a doctor rather than communicate by phone because of its convenience. Texting allows for quick exchanges, particularly useful for non-urgent matters. But using text messaging in healthcare isn’t as simple as texting friends and family. Here are 10 best practices for ensuring patient safety and confidentiality, especially when discussing sensitive topics or reviewing physician notes related to clinical operations and patient care. From giving patient consent to safely accessing electronic medical records, these key strategies are vital for effective communication throughout the patient journey.

1. Consent to receive text messages

Numerous regulations apply to texting with patients. Getting permission is a best practice regardless of the rules designed to protect patient privacy. Patients must provide explicit consent to receive messages related to their healthcare. They can do this by:

  • Signing consent forms during online doctor appointments
  • Using patient portals for medical technology-enabled consent
  • Verbally consenting during family medicine consultations
  • Granting permission via secure platforms for accessing medical information and managing patient access preferences

2. Patient consent for marketing messages

If patients want to use text messaging to receive marketing messages from the doctor, they need to provide written consent. They can receive a consent form as part of their intake paperwork. If they don't give consent to marketing messages and still receive them, the doctor risks incurring hefty fines for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

3. Opt-out options

Patients always have the option to opt out of further text messages from the doctor at any time. Many healthcare providers use automated texts that include a keyword for opting out, enabling patients to unsubscribe with a single-word reply. This makes it simple to scale access to patient data according to their unique needs. Patients should remember that once they provide consent to receive text messages from a doctor, that consent usually stays in place for that telephone number until they revoke the consent. If they change telephone numbers, they'll need to have their doctors update the phone number in their text messaging systems.

Download the report

4. Be careful with patient information

Keep in mind that text messages are not encrypted, meaning patients should not provide any protected health information (PHI) via text. When agreeing to receive text messages from the doctor, the terms of service will likely outline the risks of communicating PHI over an unencrypted channel. Then text messaging can comply with HIPAA

Common examples of PHI include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Health conditions
  • Lab results
  • Imaging studies
  • Vital signs
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Social history
  • Insurance and billing information

5. Understand different types of text messaging platforms

Understanding the different types of text messaging platforms provided by doctor's offices is crucial for patients, as it enhances their engagement and improves healthcare outcomes. These platforms facilitate efficient patient interactions and streamline communication between patients and healthcare providers. Patients need to grasp the nuances of these platforms to effectively manage their healthcare data and access essential information regarding their treatment plans.

Some text messaging platforms offer features such as secure messaging, allowing patients to communicate directly with their medical teams while ensuring the confidentiality of patient information. Additionally, patients can receive timely reminders for appointments, medication refills, and follow-up care, enhancing patient scheduling and adherence to treatment plans. Some platforms even enable patients to access their medical records, view test results, and receive doctor's notes, promoting transparency and empowerment in managing their health.

Medical groups frequently use text messaging platforms to facilitate collaboration among healthcare professionals, enabling efficient communication between doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and other staff members. Patients can benefit from these platforms by receiving comprehensive care that is well-coordinated and personalized to their needs.

Moreover, text messaging platforms may incorporate educational resources and medical training materials, empowering patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare and promoting health literacy. Overall, understanding the features and functionalities of text messaging platforms in healthcare settings is essential for patients to actively participate in their care and achieve optimal health outcomes.

Patients can use text messaging for many purposes. Some popular uses include: 

Some text messaging services offer patients the flexibility to adjust the volume of text messages they receive from a doctor’s office. This feature allows patients to tailor their communication preferences according to their needs and preferences. It also helps maintain a balanced doctor-patient relationship and ensures that the doctor’s recommendations positively impact patient outcomes.

6. Explore suitable health topics for text messaging

Text-a-doctor services and online medical consultations are suitable for various non-emergency medical conditions. Minor ailments like colds, allergies, and skin rashes often warrant text consultations because patients can describe symptoms and receive treatment recommendations conveniently. Additionally, follow-up consultations for chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension can be effectively managed through texting. Some services also allow patients to text a doctor for prescriptions, facilitating medication refills for ongoing treatments.

7. Respond promptly to doctor messages

Responding promptly to a doctor's text messages is essential for effective patient communication and care. Timely responses facilitate continuity of care by allowing doctors to address patients' concerns promptly, reducing the risk of complications or misunderstandings. Additionally, timely communication supports patient education as it enables patients to receive timely instructions, follow-up reminders, and important updates regarding their health.

Furthermore, responding promptly to text messages from a primary care doctor or healthcare provider helps maintain confidentiality, especially when discussing sensitive patient information. Patients' prompt responses also contribute to efficient patient visits by ensuring that any necessary preparations or follow-up actions can be promptly arranged through medical applications or a doctor's notes. Overall, timely communication between patients and their healthcare providers fosters a collaborative and proactive approach to healthcare management, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.

8. Provide a texting tutorial

Some healthcare providers offer short tutorials or fact sheets to teach patients how to text a doctor. These resources may cover topics such as using secure messaging platforms, accessing medical devices remotely, and following the doctor’s instructions for text-based communication. By offering guidance on using healthcare technology, office-based physicians empower patients to navigate text messaging efficiently and integrate it into their healthcare routine.

9. Understand the limitations of texting a doctor

Knowing how to text a doctor offers convenience in healthcare communication, allowing existing patients to schedule appointments, request prescription refills, and receive non-urgent medical advice promptly. However, there are limitations to consider. Texting should not replace face-to-face consultations for complex medical issues.

It's crucial to recognize that texting lacks the immediacy of voice communication and is not suitable for emergencies where patients need prompt medical intervention. Patients should exercise caution and reserve texting for non-urgent inquiries and routine matters.

It's imperative for patients to promptly consult their doctor whenever they receive a text message that is unclear or difficult to understand. Seeking clarification ensures that patients have a clear understanding of medical instructions. This helps to minimize the risk of misinterpretation and promote optimal healthcare outcomes.

10. 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:

  • Conditions related to your specialty
  • What types of insurance you take
  • Whether you have upcoming availability
  • Appointment requests
  • Questions for health professionals
  • Billing inquiries

Then designate a point person — or automated workflow — to respond to each. Write responses you can use as texts come in. It’s important to manage the office inbox to make sure 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. 

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 it 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 convenience while driving loyalty and supporting practice growth. Reduce the risk of losing new patients by giving those who are unable to reach you by phone the option to connect with your practice by text message with missed-call-text.

Staying connected with patients using secure text messaging can drive appointment volume and satisfy patients, delivering a win-win for patients and practices alike.

You Might Also Be Interested In

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.

Subscribe to The Intake:
A weekly check-up for your independent practice

Karmin Gentili

Karmin Gentili has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate HR and compliance consulting. She has worked to further elevate her skills by pursuing and receiving multiple certifications, including copywriting, video scriptwriting, effective content positioning, case study writing, and SEO. Her love of writing motivates her to use those skills to develop content for the medical field that ensures others can work toward achieving their goals.

Get expert tips, guides, and valuable insights for your healthcare practice