Modernizing Healthcare Engagement with SMS: Provider Tactics for Texting

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t sending and receiving personal texts every day. However, texting isn’t just for social interaction; it can be a powerful tool in all varieties of business and is especially useful in the healthcare industry. From enhancing clinical collaboration to improving patient engagement, texting gives healthcare an avenue for expedient and secure interactions. However, there are some important factors to consider before your therapy and rehab practice dives in.

SMS, MMS and Secure SMS

What exactly is SMS? It stands for “Short Message Service” and put simply, SMS is text messaging, whereas MMS, which stands for “Multimedia Messaging Service“, allows you to send messages up to 1,600 characters, along with letting you share media such as pictures, audio and video. 

For many people, texting is so popular that it’s overtaken talking on the phone or using emails to communicate. According to Pew Research, 85% of Americans own a smartphone, so most of the population has the capability to text. What’s more, Statista reports that people in the US send more than two trillion SMS and MMS messages per year.

Since the healthcare industry often handles sensitive and personal patient health information, the most important feature of any type of text message is security. Secure messaging is imperative when exchanging medical documents, confirming appointments or even verifying insurance. Once the proper security protocols are in place, texting in a healthcare setting offers substantial benefits for both providers and patients by creating an efficient way to stay connected throughout the entire plan of care.

Texting In Healthcare

Recent years have seen increasing adoption of text messaging in the healthcare space, with patients happily embracing the change. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Global Research & Reviews in June 2021 revealed:

  • 98.2% of patients gave a positive response when asked about text messages
  • 95.5% of patients stated they felt an increased connection to their care team when communicating via text
  • 91.9% of patients agreed that text updates helped them avoid contacting the office

Ultimately, the study concluded that text messaging updates are an alternative way to proactively communicate with patients and also help streamline clinical or administrative workflows. 

Who’s Reading Texts?

Although email is still widely-used, it’s not the most effective, with spam posing a significant challenge. For example, in March 2021, 45.1% of global email traffic was spam messages and with nearly 300 million emails sent daily, that number quickly adds up. Not surprisingly, the proliferation of spam makes people less likely to actually read emails, leading to low open rates of around 20%.

By contrast, SMS open rates are significantly higher — clocking in at around 98%. That data indicates that most of us read the texts we receive and suggests that adopting SMS is a wise choice for healthcare organizations, whether they are looking to promote self scheduling or check-in, notify patients of office updates as well as send E-Statements.

Advantages Of SMS Communication

Yes, SMS has emerged as the preferred method of communication in our personal lives, but it’s no surprise to find SMS gaining traction for professional interactions as well. While faxes and pagers were previously mainstays of healthcare engagement, texting is rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception. So, you may be wondering – what are some advantages to improved communication via SMS in healthcare?

With a secure, interactive and flexible engagement platform, healthcare providers can gain operational efficiencies, improve patient outcomes and increase staff productivity.   

  • Providers can text appointment reminders to patients, which can drastically reduce no-shows and allow patients to cancel or change appointments via SMS.
  • Patients can be advised of visit and office delays, reducing their wait times. 
  • Pharmacies can notify patients of prescription status, ensuring people receive needed medications in a timely manner and reducing the number of prescriptions left uncollected.
  • Therapists can use text for real-time interactions, leading to faster responses to patient needs, improvements in care as well as real-time, remote monitoring options for more complex treatments.
  • Clinicians can communicate critical patient insights to colleagues via text to ensure care team members have up-to-date information, resulting in fewer medical errors. 
  • Administrative teams can connect with each other and patients more efficiently, eliminating the chance of miscommunication or lost voicemails. 

Maintaining Professionalism

With the increased likelihood of a text message being opened, the pressure to make sure that it represents your practice and what you accurately want to promote can be daunting. What’s more, it can be difficult to add branding or graphics to a text message and without a hook, the message is likely to be left on read. Under these circumstances, the appeal of eye-catching emoticons and emojis quickly becomes apparent.

Emoticons, which are text-based facial expressions, or emojis, which are small icon pictures, have the power to change the tone of your message into something relatable and worth engaging with (when utilized appropriately). On the other hand, emojis or emoticons can be subject to individual interpretation and may not always have the desired effect. There have even been instances in courts where the verdict was influenced by niche understandings of emojis that most people would consider completely innocuous!

That being said, it is largely accepted that a message with emojis or emoticons has a less professional impression, but it’s up to you to find your brand and choose how you want to personify your patient engagement efforts. Just keep in mind that texting, like all other forms of communication, especially when it comes to representing your therapy and rehab practice, comes with its own etiquette in addition to HIPAA security regulations.

HIPAA Compliance and Security Rules

One of the hallmarks of healthcare communication is the criticality of guaranteeing patient confidentiality. As a result, all forms of SMS or MMS engagement must comply with HIPAA regulations, which are national standards designed to protect individually identifiable health information when transmitted or stored in an electronic format. Under HIPAA, there must be appropriate administrative, technical as well as physical safeguards in place and here’s why:

  • Encryption: With the exception of certain texting platforms, SMS and MMS communication is not encrypted by default, putting exchanges at risk of being intercepted.
  • Delivery: Once a message is sent, it’s sent! Text messages cannot be recalled if sent to the wrong person, which can be a small blunder with serious consequences.
  • SMS Firewall: Many text messaging platforms allow cloud backups, which can potentially be made accessible on other devices under the right circumstances. Just beware – even if one regularly wipes their smartphone, copies of text messages can remain on service provider servers indefinitely.

Thankfully, today’s providers can choose advanced technology that is purpose-built with the specialized, progressive needs of the healthcare industry in mind. Raintree’s HIPAA-compliant patient engagement platform, Connect, includes secure SMS text messaging that you can tailor to individual patient preferences as well as elevate how your practice facilitates survey campaigns or automated messages such as text notifications, email blasts and clinical questionnaires.