You receive an automated call or text from your healthcare office alerting you to your upcoming visit. Thankful for the helpful reminder, you are assured that your appointment is confirmed with a calendar item recorded on your e-mail. All set with digital messages in place for future reference, you can continue on your way. And so can your doctor.
While such automated reminders may be considered a nuisance in other arenas, healthcare providers are increasingly using this type of communication to follow up with patients. Boosts to engagement and outcomes are proven and patients leave with a better experience. The quick contact with medical practitioners creates higher rates of patient satisfaction.
Patient Engagement: Knowing What to Expect
Almost all Americans now own cell phones and 77% use smartphones. This has made them used to researching healthcare information on their mobile devices and now they expect it. According to the Pew Research Center, about 60% of smartphone owners have used their phone to research a health condition.
Healthcare providers that don’t use the mobile channel to communicate with their patients are creating a huge gap. The line of communication begins before the patient ever makes an appointment.
Smart practices can also use the technology to avoid holes in their schedules. Automated reminders help prevent patients from forgetting about and missing appointments. A follow-up text might say: You have an upcoming appointment on XXX. Please verify now by replying YES. The text could even come with a calendar invite and office directions so patients don’t have to search for it.
Taking digital contact to the next level, providers can send links to useful information, such as a healthcare article or instructions for an upcoming appointment. Automated messages can be set up to reach a patient before they wind up their day reminding them that they only have an hour to eat or drink before they must begin fasting for lab work. This helps keep patients informed about their care and creates realistic expectations. If they have further questions, they can follow up with a phone call to the office to speak with someone directly, but it creates a line of engagement between appointments that can largely run on autopilot.
Patients can also receive automated progress reports throughout the course of treatment. Consider bariatric surgery patients: They go through a long process before getting to surgery and it’s easy for them to fall off track. It can be easy for them to not know what to do next after completing a step along the way. Gentle reminders can inform them how their care is progressing and that they are on the way toward meeting their goals.
Text Messaging Results in Improved Care
Evidence shows that patients living with chronic conditions can benefit greatly from a digital connection with their health care professional between office visits. A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that brief automated messages can drastically improve health outcomes for Type 2 diabetes patients, particularly when glycemic control is involved.
Short texts motivating them to engage in physical activity and healthy eating resulted in an estimated 0.53% decrease in glycated hemoglobin. Since every percentage point decrease over a 10-year period helps to reduce diabetes-related deaths by 21%, myocardial infarctions by 14% and microvascular complications by 37%, the change is significant.
Another example of how automation can improve patient care comes from Ochsner Health System in Louisiana. Ochsner noticed that its patient population was near the bottom of the national average for colorectal screening. That’s not the kind of appointment most people are excited about scheduling, so it used an automated notification system to make it the process simple and easy. Patients simply pressed a button on their phone that connected with the health care team to schedule exams and answer questions. Of 578 patients who scheduled colon cancer screenings, precancerous polyps were diagnosed in 25% of 145 patients.
Workflow Efficiency Frees Up Providers
Not only do automated texts and calls improve the patient experience, they free up time for healthcare providers and staff to concentrate on more serious cases. Time-crunched providers who may see several patients a day need all the extra time they can get to spend additional time with patients who need extra care.
By asking a few automated questions, providers can assess risk and decide next steps or confirm the patient is on the right track. This gives providers the power to manage patients by exception instead of by rule, reducing the risk of costly readmissions.
An automated system makes the best use of limited resources. Although providers would love to touch more patients directly, their time is simply limited. Healthcare providers can implement between-visit engagement programs with automated appointment reminders, prescription and treatment notifications.
Healthcare providers hesitant about the impersonal nature of high-tech communication may be surprised to learn that many patients exhibit preference for the quick contact. 85% of U.S. consumers find e-mail, text messages and voicemails helpful; many times, they say this communication is preferred to in-person or phone conversations with their healthcare providers.
Of the 66% of patients who receive a voicemail, text or e-mail from a healthcare provider, 51% felt more valued as a patient, 35% note digital communication improved their opinion of their provider, and 34% were more likely to visit that healthcare provider again.
The trust this communication instills in patients is more than skin deep. Automated messages are also easily HIPAA compliant so long as they don’t contain patient identifying information.
Today’s consumers live in a notification-based world. From wakeup calls to our electronic calendars, notifications keep people engaged with their lives and they expect their healthcare providers to keep up with the trend. These messages also help extremely busy health care providers manage their daily workload and take the task of reaching out with easily automated information off their plates.
Gopi Yeleswarapu is the chief technology officer at Sequence Health, a healthcare technology and service company focused on helping bridge the communication, education, and participation gaps within the patient-provider relationship.