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Want to cut down on no-shows and improve practice efficiency? Text your patients

Patients prefer appointment reminders via text and practices are obliging, but take care in sending only the needed information and never text PHI.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

When it comes to cutting down on patient no-shows and staff time spent confirming appointments, the most preferred and effective method is texting, according to The Medical Group Management Association's most recent MGMA Stat poll.

Among the 1,569 responses to MGMA's survey, in fact, 68 percent of medical groups said they already communicate with patients via text and another 7 percent are currently considering using the technology to do so. 

Only 24 percent of respondents said they don't use text messaging to communicate with patients regarding their appointments. Of those, many said they use an alternative method such as email or phone call reminders because  text messaging is "expensive and not worth the cost." 

"Electronic devices have become the norm for most of our daily communications, making them crucial components of reaching patients in an increasingly consumer-centric healthcare environment. Practices and other healthcare organizations that effectively communicate with patients through text messaging and other electronic methods have advantages in the market and improved patient compliance: Many practices indicate that texting reduces no-shows and staff time spent confirming appointments, which improves efficiency and productivity," said MGMA principal consultant Nick Fabrizio.

The benefits of using text messaging revolve around efficiency and convenience for patients, an emerging theme in today's increasingly consumer-centric healthcare industry, especially where millennials are concerned. They offer patients the option to confirm, cancel or ask to reschedule via text. Poll results showed that patients gave their permission first before text messaging was used and was often the patient's preferred method of communication and was also said to be the most effective method over emails, phone calls or mailings.

An important consideration when text messaging patients is the security behind these communications as SMS messages are not secure messages. According to HIPAA Journal, "Recent changes to HIPAA have introduced new rules relating to how Protected Health Information (PHI) should be communicated and many healthcare organizations and other covered entities are at risk of financial sanctions and legal action should an avoidable breach of PHI occur." 

As text messaging is not typically a fully secure channel for the communication of PHI, practices must be vigilant when sending information via text.

Also part of the evolving healthcare landscape is increasing awareness that cybercriminals are looking for ways to infiltrate health systems amidst the increasing digitization of operations. 

With that in mind, practices should take care when catering to demand for electronic communication. 

MGMA advises that practices only send necessary information like the patient's first name and last initial along with the appointment day and time; obtain consent from patients for reminders via text, email or phone and honor these agreements; remind patients that text messages may not be fully secure; verify patient contact information at each visit; and never include PHI in a text that could also include the name of the patient or the practice. 

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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