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The tech savvy physician: Why text messaging is good for your practice

Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics March 2022
Volume 99
Issue 3

Text messaging is a proven way to quickly reach and successfully engage with patients and their caregivers, staff and other stakeholders.

Text messaging is a proven way to quickly reach and successfully engage with patients and their caregivers, staff and other stakeholders. Such engagement has significant value on a clinical level.

Health care organizations can use texting to share
pre-appointment requirements and safety policies, ensure patients show up to appointments, drive campaigns for recommended services that help keep them well (e.g., colonoscopies, mammograms, vaccinations), coordinate safe discharge with caretakers and more.

On the staffing side, texting can help fill scheduling gaps, keep staff informed about evolving safety policies and provide supportive messages and information on services to help with staff morale and mental wellness.

Organizations also are finding text messaging strengthens their bottom line, which is particularly important at a time when supply, staffing and other costs are on the rise and reimbursement is tightening.

Here are eight ways texting can improve health care revenue and decrease costs.

1 Increase patient volume

Use texting to encourage patients to schedule services such as annual physicals or wellness visits; surgical procedures postponed due to COVID-19; and routine services such as laboratory tests, imaging, rehabilitation and physical therapy. Increased patient volume translates to increased billing opportunities.

2 Support telehealth programs

Text messaging is becoming an integral component of new and/or growing telehealth programs, including for the initiation of telehealth consultations. Organizations can send messages with 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.

3 Reduce cancellations, no-shows and no-goes

Missed appointments cost the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year. A missed appointment means a patient is not only failing to receive the care they need, but the organization may end up with 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 time to fill an opening if a patient indicates they want to reschedule.

4 Boost collections

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.

5 Verify coverage and benefits

For staff members tasked with outbound insurance verification often discover, reaching patients is not only time-consuming but often unsuccessful. This is a growing issue. A survey by Truecaller found nearly 90% of Americans will answer calls only if they know who is calling. Meanwhile, voicemails are increasingly ignored.

Organizations can text patients informing them that a staff member must verify their insurance and benefits and then request patients call the organization. This is a game-changer for staff and their work flow, 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.

6 Improve online reputation

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 and improve staff recruitment. Text messages can be sent that survey patients about their treatment experience. For those who respond positively, follow-up messages can 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 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.

7 Avoid readmission penalties

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, 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.

8 Optimize staffing and productivity

An indirect way texting improves the bottom line is through enhancing aspects of staffing. Texts can help organizations maintain an optimal schedule, limiting the need for extensive overtime and staff. Text messaging also dramatically reduces the number of phone calls staff must make and receive. The time saved on these calls can allow an organization to assign other tasks to staff who would normally be making these calls, which helps clinical and/or financial performance.

Bottom line: Texting makes a lot of sense (and cents)

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 data. 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 were missing.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health