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Rethinking Healthcare Conversations with Text Messaging

Healthcare organizations have many reasons to make meaningful connections with people in the populations they serve. Hospitals, health systems, and medical practices are shifting focus from treating illness to motivating individuals to get and stay healthy. At the same time, insurers want to acquire new members to balance out the costs of coverage while clinical researchers seek to recruit participants to test emerging drugs and treatments.

Doctor and nurse talking to patientAs these organizations work to attract people for their various initiatives — a process broadly known as patient acquisition — they must do so in an effective and affordable way. Text messaging is one particular technology that’s helping them accomplish their goals.

In a recent Healthcare Dive webinar, Chris Boone, CEO of the Health Data Consortium, and Alyson Rixner, Director of Healthcare Solutions at Upland Mobile Messaging, discussed why text messaging is an effective means of reaching and engaging patients in the healthcare space.

Why reaching patients is vital

Most people are inundated with phone calls and emails throughout the day, making communication through those channels ineffective. In contrast, text messaging, also known as SMS, reaches people where they prefer to be reached. After all, many people don’t go anywhere without their mobile phone, and every device can both send and receive text messages. If we assume that individuals share the common desire of improved health, it’s necessary for care organizations to choose an accessible and effective channel to initiate that conversation.

Happy family texting“When it comes to scalability and reach, evidence shows that health outcomes improve by providing a more personal health connection, particularly in high-needs populations,” notes Boone. “Traditional phone calls are not only more expensive, but they are not nearly as effective at increasing patient adherence.”

As smartphones and text messaging become adopted as new approaches to patient communication, “the healthcare system is evolving to become less paternalistic and more adaptive to people,” Boone adds.

How text messaging improves patient acquisition

Community Health Net Healthy Tips Twitter CTA 2SMS can be used in countless creative ways to make a lasting connection with your patient acquisition targets. For example, Community Health Net in the New York City area, runs a weight-loss program for current patients and others in the community. It uses Twitter to prompt people to opt in to a text messaging program to get daily nutritional tips that will ultimately help them lose weight. The program also prompts participants to locate a Community Health Net clinic close to them to be screened for other co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Text messaging, when deployed in this manner, works effectively for the following reasons:

1) Text messaging has become the preferred communication channel. Almost every person in the United States has a mobile phone, with text messaging the most commonly used application on such devices, according to statistics from the Pew Internet Research Project and CTIA, a wireless industry trade group. In particular, underserved populations over-index for text messaging: households that make less than $30,000 per year text twice as much as households with yearly income over $75,000. “This tells us that SMS is the one channel that can really penetrate an entire patient population, regardless of who you are looking to reach,” says Rixner.

Doctor talking to family2) Text messaging provides an easy way for people to engage with healthcare organizations. Healthcare organizations and consumers make a direct connection through text messaging. Organizations can advertise their call to action across multiple channels — via traditional print materials such as posters, flyers, billboards, and bus wraps, as well as through digital channels, such as social media posts, online webforms and broadcast media. Consumers exposed to these campaigns can opt in to receive messages from anywhere at anytime by texting the advertised keyword to the six-digit short code (e.g., Text “BFit” to 877877). There’s no need to fill out forms or be connected to the Internet connection to sign up.

3) Text messaging is a cost effective method for patient acquisition. SMS programs is easily integrated with existing outreach campaigns, which can help keep budgets in line – the typical program adds only minor incremental marketing costs. For example, printed materials can be quickly and inexpensively updated with stickers stating the text message call to action. In addition, multiple text messaging programs can be managed using a single platform, allowing separate departments to share costs, without the need for specialized IT support.

Better patient acquisition leads to better healthcare outcomes

Senior couple looking at phoneOnce people are opted in to a text messaging program, they are able to receive messages that can help them improve specific health outcomes. A recent systematic review conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services looked at over 60 different text-messaging interventions between 2009 and 2012 and found significant improvements around smoking cessation, diabetes management, asthma and other chronic conditions. The study states that most of the interventions reviewed “had a very positive effect on increasing patient awareness of knowledge related to health risk and behaviors.” In order to see these kinds of outcomes, healthcare organizations must first opt in patients to their text messaging programs and studies.

Overall, incorporating text messaging into an outreach strategy can improve patient acquisition because texting is already a preferred communication vehicle for people across all demographics. Easy-to-use calls to action reliably trigger positive returns on investment. As such, using text messaging technology to reach patients and communicate health information is valuable for both patients and healthcare organizations alike. To learn more about how you can use text messaging for patient acquisition, please contact us.

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