Good communication between providers and their patients is the cornerstone of high-quality healthcare.Productive communication, however, is often hampered by time limitations. When you consider that the average doctor’s appointment only lasts for roughly 13 to 16 minutes, it’s easy to understand why questions don’t always get answered or instructions are not completely understood.
Providers need to explore new strategies and tools to help them use their limited time more efficiently and to improve outcomes for patients. Since more three-quarters of American adults text regularly, text messaging can be an ideal resource for providers who are looking to improve communication with their patients.
Encouraging patients to stick with their prescribed medications is actually surprisingly difficult in the U.S. Half of all U.S. patients don’t take their medications as prescribed by their doctors, and poor medication adherence is lowest among chronically ill patients. There are consequences, of course, for poor medication adherence: well over 100,000 Americans die annually from not taking their prescriptions properly, and as poor adherence rates increase overall, emergency room visits increase by 17 percent. Providers can use texting to send strategic yet simple reminders to their patients about taking their medication. These texts can even feature instructions on how to take the medication, or the texts can offer an embedded link to info outlining reasons why patients should always take their medication as prescribed. Notably, no app is required and the level of "friction"—that is, the steps a patient needs to go through in order to get the information—is very low when using this “text-first” approach.
When patient-to-provider communication suffers, miscommunications abound. Though providers are usually confident in their abilities to explain a diagnosis, patients sometimes have trouble understanding the particulars. For instance, one study noted that 75 percent of orthopedic surgeons believe that they communicated properly with their most recent patients, but only 21 percent of those patients reported satisfactory communication with their surgeons. Why the discrepancy? Well, sometimes patients lack the literacy skills needed to understand a diagnosis properly. One study noted that 36 percent of American adults have limited health literacy—this means that many American adults have difficulty properly comprehending written health material, instructions, or diagnoses.
Texting can be used to help improve communication efforts and supplement and reinforce their instructions. To make things even easier, providers can include links to easy-to-follow videos or graphical instructions, making it much simpler for patients to fully understand important treatment plan information. Secure texting—without the requirement of an app—comes in the form of a text message with an embedded link that invokes a secure web application, and after entering the required authentication, the link takes the patient to a place where protected health information can be exchanged safely and securely. This can be used to provide diagnosis related information and to obtain patient reported health status. Taking this a step further, if the information provided falls outside of a pre-defined range, the healthcare team will be alerted to the discrepancy and can handle accordingly.
Chronic disease is a major issue in the U.S. In fact, roughly 45 percent of the population has at least one chronic disease, like diabetes or arthritis. People suffering from chronic diseases can, of course, live full lives—as long as they regularly follow proper medication adherence and health guidelines and they communicate consistently with their healthcare providers. Using text messaging, providers can tailor messaging to each patient population —like diabetics—to monitor health status and remind patients about condition-specific healthy behaviors (such as proper diet and exercise). From education and alerts to obtaining patient reported health status, text messaging is an invaluable tool to extend the reach of healthcare providers in a cost efficient and effective way to help manage these patient populations.
Texting is an ideal provider-to-patient communication tool. The vast majority of American adults—ranging from young adults to the elderly—text on a daily basis, and with a simple text message a provider can offer timely and relevant health information to their patients. As provider’s are constantly challenged to do more (and better) with less, text messaging is an important tool for ensuring that patients consistently receive the guidance and information they require to improve and maintain their health.
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