3 Tips for Using Text Messaging to Improve Preventive Care Appointment Scheduling

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Pediatricians, family doctors and gerontologists alike know that getting people in for preventive care visits can have a big impact on health. Knowing about health risks early can give people time to make lifestyle changes to reduce them. And when health conditions are identified early, people tend to have better options for treatment. Yet Americans get only about half of their recommended preventive care1 – a decision that can leave serious health conditions undiagnosed, lead to diminished treatment options, and significantly increase health care costs.

While clinics have long tried direct mail and outbound calls to increase scheduling, these methods typically don’t drive enough patient behavior to produce the desired ROI. Direct mail is expensive, and calls require a significant amount of staff time. Text messaging, on the other hand, is an easy and affordable way to reach patients via a method they’re already using every day: their smartphones.

With strategic, focused patient communication, ambulatory health care settings can improve preventive care adherence. In fact, some of our CareWire Messenger: Encounter Navigator clients have achieved >50% improvement in their preventive care scheduling rate.

How are they doing it? A big part of the answer involves these three tips: 

  1. Be sure your messages are timely and relevant. Think about the context of the patient’s experience when you’re delivering a message. Messages should be timely, relevant, and easy for the patient to understand. Timely messages arrive when they are most helpful to patients, such as after an episode of care, based on a clinical interval, or during a particular season. For example, well child visits are often done at the end of the summer, so kids can have immunizations done before school starts and, if needed, have sports physical paperwork signed. So messaging during the summer – when kids are out of school and may be more available for appointments – is a great idea. Many adults, on the other hand, get preventive check-ups every 12 months due to insurance limitations. For those patients, outreach based on intervals makes sense. Keep age-specific recommendations in mind as well, such as colonoscopies or mammograms.
  1. Use authority to frame up the messages, proving validity to the patient. Let’s face it: Some people can be skeptical and think preventive care is just a way for health care providers to profit. Of course, you know that’s not the case, so be sure to explain what’s in it for patients. Using authority statements such as “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends …” or stats such as “people who get the XX vaccine are X% less likely to …” are good ways to get patients’ attention and build credibility.
  1. Have a strong call to action. Instead of the standard “contact us” or “learn more,” think about how you can make it even easier for patients to engage with the call to action. For example, if the goal is to encourage a patient to schedule a preventive care visit, can you provide a “click-to-call” option in the message? Do you offer online scheduling, so the patient can take action simply and immediately any time of day or night? Remove as many barriers as possible. When you’ve built a messaging program that works hard to get results, the final mile is always ensuring your clinical, operational, and call center staff know who might be reaching out and why. Be sure the person answering the phone will have easy access to records to make scheduling an appointment quick.
Of course, with any initiative it’s always important to see if your efforts are working.  To track how many patients are re-engaging with preventive care visit scheduling, considering tying trackable phone numbers to your campaign.
Wondering what else you can do to improve preventive care appointment scheduling?  Let's talk.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventive Health Care. Available at: Accessed May 14, 2018.

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