COVID-19 and the Rise of Texting in Healthcare

Josh Weiner

Josh Weiner is chief operating officer of Solutionreach.

The last thing patients want is to be put on hold by their provider or interrupted by calls during the work day.

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In business and marketing, the concept of creative disruption (or innovative disruption) suggests that a radical change in a marketplace is brought about by the overturning of existing conventions. Typically, some type of disturbance, expected or unexpected, occurs to alter the usual pattern of operating or doing business to create a new model. 

In healthcare, a fitting example of this is how during the COVID-19 pandemic the way we converse with patients has migrated from phone calls to texting. Prior to the crisis, phone calls as the default mode of healthcare communication were already on the outs. Not surprising, only 18 percent of people say they listen to a voicemail from a number they don’t recognize.

A catalyst for change, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of healthcare moving away from phone calls. A recent survey of patients’ communication preferences both before and during the coronavirus found that interest in phone calls had plummeted 14 percent in just a few months. 

For providers and patients in a COVID-19 world, phone calls just didn’t get the job done as well as they once had for a variety of reasons. Seventy percent of people experienced longer call wait times than normal when trying to reach a business during coronavirus. Amid a health crisis, the last thing patients want is to be put on hold by their provider or interrupted by calls during the work day.

All told, it developed into a situation where providers couldn’t effectively get critical information relayed about COVID-19, such as safety and protocols, park and wait instructions, and altered practice hours. Similarly, patients couldn’t quickly and easily get the information they needed when they needed it. Both parties were frustrated by the failure of phone calls to facilitate speedy back and forth interactions. As a result, it’s easy to see why the level of patient satisfaction with healthcare communications during COVID-19 fell by 7 percent when compared with pre-pandemic figures, according to the communication preferences study.

Creative disruption took place when healthcare providers realized they already had the solution to their COVID-19 communication ills at their disposal—text messaging. For starters, texting offers a range of advantages over phone calls. On average, where it takes four seconds to send a text message, a similar phone call can last a minimum of two minutes, often much longer. Along the same lines, the response rate for texts is 209 percent higher than it is for phone calls, and most text messages are read within 15 minutes

By automating scheduling tasks like text appointment reminders and COVID-19 patient education messages, providers are connecting clearly and effectively with patients while simultaneously increasing confirmations and decreasing no-shows. Through the use of group texts, providers can message large numbers of patients with important COVID-19 information, details about vaccinations, and the latest health advisories all with the click of a button.

Yet healthcare organizations aren’t the only ones gaining from the transition of patient-provider communications from phone calls to texting. Patients themselves are fully onboard with texting as the new normal. Eighty-one percent of Americans own a smartphone and 97 percent send a text at least weekly. Clearly, texting has become the preferred way to communicate because it’s quick, convenient, and people can respond to messages on their own timeframe. And when it comes to patients, text messaging is surging. Nearly 80 percent of patients in the survey said that they wanted to receive text messages from their provider. Another 84 percent said they preferred communication automation as a faster and more efficient method of getting responses from their doctor’s office. 

And it’s not just text messaging which is changing the way providers interact with patients. Real-time, two-way text messaging adds a whole new dimension to patient engagement. Through two-way texting, providers are able to answer patients’ questions, follow up on no-shows, and conduct a conversation with patients while not overwhelming staff with time-consuming phone calls. According to the patient survey, 73 percent of patients desire the ability to text their medical provider. That communications compatibility is a win-win for healthcare organizations and those they serve.

Ultimately, the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused providers and patients to reexamine how they interact and communicate. Texting has become the new phone call, and that flexibility and efficiency is helping build upon and improve the patient-provider relationship. Patients feel like providers are listening better and being more responsive to their needs and preferences. The end result is a better healthcare experience for patients and improved levels of patient satisfaction with their provider.

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Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Weiner has been recognized by Utah Business as a 2017 CXO of the Year and as a 2018 Forty Under 40 Utah Rising Star. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and two children. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and desert. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner