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Text Messaging: A Simple Approach to Engaging and Activating Patients

Mobile,Patient Satisfaction,mhealth,health IT

Patient engagement and positive outcomes go hand-in-hand—it is hard to have one without the other.

When providers work to keep healthcare consumers engaged, the consumers respond in kind: they become actively involved in their respective treatments and do their best to adhere to prescribed treatment plans and stay informed. In fact, when healthcare consumers are fully active in the treatment process, hospitals end up saving time and resources. Active patients are committed to recovery, and this helps boost medication adherence rates and lowers overall hospital readmission rates. In fact, a study of 30,000 patients noted that patients with low activation scores—in short, healthcare consumers that weren't engaged and were not actively involved in their treatments—incurred more costs for healthcare providers to the tune of 8 percent to 21 percent higher than those healthcare consumers with high activation scores.

How exactly does a healthcare provider drive patient engagement? Boosting engagement, first and foremost, requires reaching a vast majority of the target patient population - regardless of age or socioeconomic status. Technology can facilitate the communication process, but to be effective these digital tools must be simple and easy to use —and that is why healthcare providers must consider text messaging as a strategic patient engagement tool. Over 90 percent of Americans own a cell phone, and over 80 percent of those individuals text regularly. For Americans under the age of 50, texting is the top form of communication. Providers can use texting to quickly and cost effectively reach large swaths of their patient populations. The following are some examples of the role texting can play in engagement and activation:

Education

Patients who are informed and educated about an upcoming medical procedure, for instance, are far more likely to take the steps needed for a successful recovery free from complications. For example, for a recent Gallup poll, researchers asked healthcare consumers who underwent a device implantation to share whether or not they agreed with statements about three aspects of their surgery education:

  • Did consumers know what to expect?
  • Were they prepared?
  • Did they follow the post-surgery treatments?

Surprisingly, only 37 percent of respondents agreed with all three and 17 percent stated that they did not agree with any of the statements.

When healthcare consumers do not understand their treatment plans, issues such as low medication adherence or readmissions are bound to occur. Texting represents an opportunity to provide concise information, education and reminders at precisely the moment it is most relevant.

Treatment Plan Adherence

Half of all the patients in the U.S. do not take their medication as prescribed. One out of every five prescriptions never gets filled, and every year poor medication adherence claims the lives of 125,000 Americans.

Healthcare consumers often miss appointments—no show rates average around 40 percent—and these missed appointments cost the U.S. healthcare system roughly $150 billion annually. Why do patients miss appointments? Often, it is simply due to forgetfulness or conflicting responsibilities.

However, some healthcare consumers miss appointments for the same reason as other patients fail to adhere to proper medication treatments: they have doubts or questions, and they are unsure or nervous on moving forward. Re-thinking how we communicate with and engage patients can play a role in answering these questions and assuaging these doubts. By making texting part of a comprehensive communication strategy, providers can easily and cost effectively:

  • Send appointment reminders and alerts when it is time for a patient to take their medication
  • Provide links to more in-depth information (that includes pictures and videos)
  • Determine if patients understand their treatment plans and be notified if there are potential issues

Texting is one of the simplest solutions to a problem that undermines patient care and costs healthcare organizations significant money and time.

Patient Satisfaction Insights

Texting platforms are ideally suited to send patient satisfaction assessments after an encounter. In fact, anytime a healthcare consumer interacts with a provider, the provider can use that opportunity to immediately send along a brief satisfaction assessment, allowing for a steady consumer-to-provider conversation, which can help generate positive results. More sophisticated, rule-based platforms can respond with follow-up questions based upon specific responses, and even clear the way for a phone call to learn more about their experience. Information received this way makes it easy for analysts to transform the data into insights that can inform continuous improvement activities.

The bottom line: Texting represents a golden opportunity for providers to rapidly, effectively and cost-efficiently engage and activate patients. Accomplishing this is a win for both patients and providers.

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