The Evolution of Patient Communication: As Easy as a Text

By Josh Weiner, CEO, SR Health by Solutionreach
Twitter: @FollowSRHealth

You might be surprised to learn just how many patients in 2021 are thumbing it. No, they’re not standing on the roadside trying to catch a ride, but rather folks of all ages are thumbing out text messages to interact with their healthcare providers.

In recent years, a diverse set of factors has intersected to make text messaging one of the fastest growing forms of patient-provider communication. One study found that nearly half of Americans texted more during the COVID pandemic than they had previously. Another study revealed that nearly 80 percent of patients want to get text messages from their providers and almost 75 percent want to be able to send real-time texts to their providers.

What explains this massive shift toward texting? Among the key factors are exponential technology development, growing consumerism, the pandemic, and fluctuating patient preferences. Healthcare consumers have sprinted ahead to adopt tools like text messaging at a pace that has left providers gasping for air. That’s because within a relatively short time frame, we’ve gone from booking an appointment by a phone call, which averages 8 minutes, to zipping off a text in seconds to confirm a provider’s automated appointment reminder.

Rapid advances in digital technology in the 1990s gave us not only text messaging, but also other communication tools like email, patient portal messaging, and the ability to interact through electronic health records (EHRs). Suddenly, patients had a plethora of ways to connect with providers other than just phone calls.

Yet before many of these mediums could fully take hold, the digital revolution collided with consumerism, and suddenly convenience, speed, simplicity, and ease of use were the new standards for modern communication. People craved technology and devices that enabled 24/7, on-demand access to products, people, and services—including healthcare. From A to Z, connectivity was all about tools like Alexa, DoorDash, TikTok, Uber, and Zoom. Consumers and patients preferred the ease of being able to simply shoot off a text to a retailer, business, or healthcare provider.

But 18 months ago, COVID slammed into the planet at terminal velocity and made us rethink how we live, work, and communicate. Almost overnight, our priorities turned to safeguarding personal health and preventing the virus’ spread, which encouraged us to receive healthcare from a distance. 87 percent of healthcare leaders said safety was the top reason patients deferred care in 2020. Hospitals and health systems were left with few options but to reschedule appointments, temporarily shutter their facilities, and resume care visits through telehealth.

If the worldwide public health emergency taught us anything about patient communication, it’s that many of technologies we’d been using, such as phone calls, emails, patient portals, and EHRs, simply weren’t up to the task. They were either too slow, inaccessible, or inefficient when providers needed to quickly get word out about things like office closures, telehealth visit reminders, or to share vaccine availability. As a result, 83 percent of patients described poor communication—as opposed to access to care or quality of care—as the worst part of the patient experience in 2020.

However even before COVID, healthcare consumers had turned at a fork in the road. The consumer appeal of texting due to its simplicity, speed, and ease of use, had ardently won over patients. The pandemic had merely served to accelerate that phenomenon as patients demanded more modern forms of communication. Data from a HIMSS 2021 survey of patient communication preferences found that patient texting increased by 14 percent during COVID. It also showed that seven-in-10 patients want to receive texts for things like appointment reminders, confirmations, pre-visit instructions, and post-visit care instructions.

And it’s not just younger generations of patients who want to be able to connect over text with their providers. 64 percent of patients under age 50 and 33 percent of patients ages 50 and up are willing to switch providers to get more modern communication, according to the HIMSS survey.

Consequently, it’s critical that providers rise to occasion and align their patient engagement strategies and practices to meet patients where they are—which in 2021 is through texting. Not only can providers interact more effectively and efficiently with patients across their care journey, but they’ll be able to minimize disruptions like no-shows and late cancellations that perforate schedules and drain revenue. Texting is today’s shared solution to bridge gaps in communication that will bring patients and providers closer together and improve the patient experience and outcomes. And it can be as simple as just using your thumbs.