Mobile technology and the advent of wireless networks has opened up numerous opportunities for people to communicate in different ways. However, most of the providers in the healthcare sector still use phone calls and voice mails to communicate. Truth is that patients are now on the lookout for more convenient ways to communicate with their providers. By and large, texting is one of the most preferred ways of communication of the patients. As per data from the Spring 2015 Global Attitude Survey, 72% of Americans own a smartphone and are fond of the texting feature. Although the smartphone enables other opportunities of communication through mobile apps, emails, etc., patients are not completely embracing them as it involves additional steps or passwords.
The Challenges associated with Texting in Healthcare
Not only is texting a more convenient way for patients to communicate with their healthcare providers, it is equally prospective for the providers. Texting essentially is a better way for providers to issue alerts, optimise schedules, forward reminders, etc. and do so cost effectively by eliminating the cost incurred by phone call rates, which at times could be massive.
But, texting has posed challenges for healthcare providers. It is difficult for most practice management and EMR systems to capture texts and deliver an immediate response. There are many practices though that have adhered to texting solutions, but comprising of various restrictions. Despite the introduction of an automated texting solution, the reminders, appointment messages, alerts come from an unknown short code. There are cases where patients are compelled to reply using specific response parameters only (like Yes/No), instead of free-form responses. In case of the texting solutions that do allow free-form responses, the responses are received as emails and sent to the practice management for manual monitoring. A staff is assigned to check the account for updates and then determine how to reply.
There are also cases where the practice’s healthcare software systems are not completely integrated with the solution and the assigned staff has to re-enter contact information that’s already in the EMR solution or the practice management. Sometimes, practices also assign staff to individually respond to the patient messages as and when they arrive by providing them with a cell phone.
Thus, we see that there are various challenges that are associated with texting among the providers in the healthcare sector.
The Need for a Highly Integrated Texting Solution
What’s required is a highly integrated approach that equally satisfies both parties, i.e.- the providers and the patients. Ideally the texting solution should be fully integrated with the EMR information and the practice management. This will ensure that the staff does not double enter the patient contact information and texts can be included in the patient record. An integrated approach will also allow the administration to send messages at ease from their desktops to a particular patient/patients or to a specific mailing list. Overall, highly integrated texting solution will provide the following benefits:
Convenience of patients: Patients can be granted their wish of communicating (fixing appointments, receiving reminders, etc.) through the texting feature, instead of having to communicate over phone call or having to download a mobile app.
Increased responsiveness to incoming messages: An integrated approach will enable the administration to receive alerts when new messages come in and they can be attended to immediately. Data synchronization with the EMR system allow the practice to understand which mobile phone is associated to which patient, etc.
Easy to fill in scheduling gaps: For times when there might be a gap or opening in a schedule, a list of patients can be alerted simultaneously and their response can be recorded immediately. This is very efficient compared to individual phone calls and as a result, the gaps in the schedule can be filled asap.
Analysis of data providing additional insight: A lot of handy patient data and intelligence can be gathered by tracking response rates. This enable the practice to group patients according to the characteristic they portray. For instance, patient who need repeated reminders, frequent responders, no-shows, etc.
Single consolidated viewing of data: An integrated approach also enables the tracking and viewing of the currently ongoing interactions, texts, mails, etc. at one place.