Why text messaging is good for the business of health care
Text messaging is a proven method for quickly reaching and successfully engaging with patients and their caregivers, staff, and other stakeholders. Such engagement has significant value on a clinical level.
Texting is helping healthcare organizations better ensure patients show up to their treatment appointments and comply with pre-appointment requirements and safety policies; drive patient recall campaigns so patients receive the recommended services that help keep them well (e.g., colonoscopies, mammograms, vaccinations); coordinate safe discharge with caretakers; and more.
On the staffing side, text messaging is helping organizations fill scheduling gaps, keep staff informed about evolving safety policies, and provide supportive messages and information on available services that can help with staff morale and mental wellness.
If texting solely helped improve patient care and outcomes, that alone would validate its usefulness. But as organizations are finding, there are numerous ways text messaging is strengthening their bottom line — which is particularly important at a time when supply, staffing, and most other costs are on the rise and reimbursement is often tightening.
Let's look at eight of the ways texting can improve healthcare revenue and decrease costs.
Texting is an effective way to encourage patients to schedule the services they need, whether it be annual physicals or wellness visits; surgical procedures postponed due to COVID-19; routine services, such as lab tests, imaging, rehabilitation, and physical therapy; and recommended services like those noted above concerning recall campaigns. Increasing patient volume translates to increasing billing opportunities.
Organizations are often making text messaging an integral component of new and/or growing telehealth programs, including for the initiation of telehealth consultations. Organizations can send messages which include hyperlinks that, when selected by the patient, start the appointment. Texting can also be used to inform patients about the availability of telehealth services and how to schedule telehealth appointments.
Missed appointments cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year. A missed appointment means a patient is not only failing to receive the care they need, but if the organization learns a patient will be missing their appointment too close to the appointment time and/or date, it could translate to unused scheduling capacity. This translates to a missed billing opportunity and staffing costs not offset by billable services.
Texting patients reduces cancellations, no-shows, and no-goes. Prior to an appointment, organizations can send a message that reminds patients about their scheduled treatment. The text can include information about required preparation for the treatment (e.g., fasting), safety policies, a phone number if patients have questions, and directions to the organization.
If a text message is sent far enough in advance asking patients to confirm their appointment, an organization may have enough time to fill an opening if a patient indicates they want to reschedule.
Texting may be one of the simplest ways to enhance an organization's revenue cycle management and performance. Organizations can send texts reminding patients of their payment responsibility — either upcoming or overdue — and the way they can pay for their care. The text can include a link to an online bill pay website if the organization offers such a payment mechanism. This approach is familiar to most people since many other industries already use texting for payment prompts.
Since patients often have questions about their balance and payment method options, the patient reminder text can include language encouraging patients to call a hyperlinked phone number and the appropriate hours to call to have questions or concerns addressed.
As staff members who are tasked with outbound insurance verification often find, reaching patients is not only time-consuming but often unsuccessful. This is a growing issue. A survey by TrueCaller found nearly9 in 10 Americans will now only answer calls if they know who is calling. Meanwhile, voicemails are increasingly ignored. On the other hand, almost every inbound call to a healthcare organization — at least during hours of operation — are answered by a staff member.
Organizations can text patients informing them that a staff member must verify their insurance and benefits and then request patients call the organization. This usage case for text messaging is a game-changer for staff and their workflow as it helps expedite the verification process — better ensuring that appointments can proceed, and successful billing will occur — while freeing up extensive time and energy previously spent making repeated calls and leaving voicemails.
One's online reputation is more important than ever for an organization's success. A patient survey conducted by RepuGen found "more than 95% of the patient population consider online reviews to be an important aspect of their decision-making process, with 40% of them refusing to visit providers with poor reviews."
A positive reputation can help an organization better attract patients, receive more referrals, promote new services, improve staff recruitment, and achieve many other benefits. Texts can aid organizations in efforts concerning improving their online reputation. Messages can be sent that survey patients about their treatment experience. For those who respond positively, follow-up messages can be sent that encourage patients to publish an online review and include links to websites where the organization maintains a profile (e.g., Google, Facebook, Yelp). Messages can also request testimonials that can be published and shared.
Furthermore, texting is an effective way to learn about unsatisfied patients. For patients who respond to a text survey indicating they had a negative experience, a follow-up message can ask them to identify what they found disappointing and/or ask if they would like to speak with an organization representative about their experience. The information learned may help an organization improve its operations and decrease the likelihood that future patients will have a similar experience. In addition, showing a genuine interest in hearing about a patient's experience can help reduce the likelihood the patient will leave a negative online review.
So far, we've highlighted ways to increase the bottom line. What about ways to avoid decreasing it? We recently learned that Medicare is punishing nearly 2,500 hospitals for high readmissions. Texting can help organizations keep their readmission rates low and reduce the likelihood that they will suffer penalties.
Following discharge, text messages can be sent to patients reminding them about discharge instructions they should follow, explaining what to do if they have questions about instructions, and asking if they are experiencing any discomfort and identifying what to do if they are in pain. Similar messages can be sent to caregivers to better help with patient support and compliance.
An indirect way texting improves the bottom line is through enhancing many aspects of staffing. As noted above, texts can help organizations maintain an optimal schedule, limiting the need for extensive overtime and PRN staff. Text messaging also dramatically reduces the number of phone calls staff must make to and receive from patients and caregivers. The time saved on these calls can allow an organization to further optimize its schedule and assign other tasks to staff who would normally be making these calls that can help with clinical and/or financial performance.
The above examples are just a few of the significant ways text messaging is helping organizations strengthen their financial performance. Texting is a practical solution that can deliver organization-wide improvements, including to the bottom line. For most organizations, adding and leveraging texting as a communication mechanism is simple and fast, with a smooth learning curve and easy integration with existing systems that store patient. Text messaging solutions are increasingly cloud-based, so organizations will not need to purchase new computers or hardware, keeping costs at a minimum.
Organizations that add texting may quickly find that it's the clinical, operational, and financial tool they didn't know they had been missing.
About the Author
Brandon Daniell is president and co-founder of Dialog Health, a cloud-based, two-way texting platform that enables information to be pushed to and pulled from patients and caregivers.
This article was originally published on Medical Economics®.