Text Messaging: Simpler and More Effective than Patient Engagement Apps

Good provider-to-patient communication is critical, and study after study showcases the value of reaching patients beyond the examination room.

Thanks to the digital revolution, providers now have a wealth of choices when trying to find the right technology for patient communication and engagement. Because “one size does not fit all,” providers must offer a variety of channels depending upon patient preference, and, in today’s world, it’s clear that mobile communication is one option that must be on the list.

 Mobile phones have reached the point of ubiquity and, as a result, many providers are evaluating the best approach for using these devices to reach their patients. These options often come down to two distinct approaches—mobile apps or text messaging. While the decision does not necessarily need to be an either/or decision, text messaging is proving to be more effective than apps – especially if you want to quickly and consistently reach a broad and diverse population. The bottom line: Text messaging is a simple solution that is patient-centered and cost effective. Here are a few key reasons why text messaging is the better option for healthcare organizations over mobile applications.

The Simple Solution

Well over 90 percent of the American population owns a cell phone, and over 70 percent of the population sends and receives texts regularly, according to Pew. As to be expected, young adults—those between the ages of 18 and 24—send nearly a 110 text messages a day. But older adults also text frequently as well: 88 percent of Americans 50 to 64 years of age own a cell phone, and of that same group, 75 percent use their mobile phones for texting consistently. In fact, 66 percent of Baby Boomers send text messages on a regular basis. In short, it’s not an exaggeration to say that most Americans own a cell phone and also text regularly, and instead of creating a new platform, it’s simpler to use the communication tool most Americans already use.

From Millennials to Baby Boomers, everybody texts. However, not all Americans own a smartphone, which means that app usage is limited to a select group of Americans. That’s part of the reason as to why texting is such an attractive communication option for healthcare providers: first most people already text, and, secondly, with text-based communication, there is no need to download an application. All cellphones—even the most basic models—are capable of sending and receiving texts, which means that this particular option is a simple solution for immediately connecting providers and patients in a way that both are already using on a consistent basis. When it comes to technology, sometimes simple is better.

Ease of Use

Unfortunately, mobile applications can be difficult to use. For instance, according to one study, even though there are mobile apps that are designed to help diabetics track their diet, blood sugar levels, and physical activities, elderly diabetics often avoid using these digital tools simply because the apps are hard to navigate. Researchers participating in the study noted that small text and icons, buttons that bring up multiple options when users hold them down, and hard-on-the-eyes color contrasts make these mobile apps difficult for elderly patients to use.

With texting, users simply type out their responses and receive messages through a familiar and comfortable user experience. Font sizes can be increased and providers can share secure URLs, beyond that, texting is, by design, basic and to the point. With texting, there is very little to learn or grasp, and since most of the population already texts, implementation is extremely easy. This means that providers or healthcare organizations don’t have to spend a countless amount of money running an app through tests and focus groups to nail down the perfect user experience. It’s simply using what already works as part of a larger strategic plan. With apps, there is a learning curve, and because some apps can be complicated and hard-to-navigate, that curve can be steep—and sometimes so steep that patients abandon using them altogether. 

It’s Affordable

Mobile applications can be quite expensive to develop. The price tag for designing one basic application for a single mobile platform (like Android) can start at $25,000. However, as the application becomes more complex, and if it’s designed for multiple platforms, the price tag can hit well over $100,000 and beyond, which is not including the budget for marketing and communications to help educate patients on how to use and why they should download the app. The majority of mobile devices can send and receive texts, and since texting-platforms don’t need to be adjusted for multiple platforms, these texting-platforms carry a rather affordable price tag, especially when compared to mobile app development. Providers can implement a useful texting platform—one that can be used with nearly any device—while generating an attractive return on their investment.

Texting is a patient-centered approach. As healthcare organizations design their own individual apps, those patients that seek care from multiple providers must then download and manage multiple apps, which means multiple user names, passwords, and user experiences. Alternatively, by using texting messaging, patients can communicate with a wide array of providers through one “application” and a singular user experience. It is a win-win: texting simplifies the communication process for patients, and providers have the benefit of an affordable, flexible platform that can reach patients of all ages and demographics.

When it comes to effective communication tools, texting reigns supreme, and it’s the best choice for provider-to-patient communication. It’s simple for patients to use, cost effective, and a proven communication channel.

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