Around the world, smartphones rule. In many countries, they’re the only device most people use to get online. Data from SAP Global shows that 68% of people check their phones at least hourly. In the 18-24 age group, 37% check their phones every 10 minutes. All these figures underscore why mobile phones are an excellent way to connect with your core audience.
Healthcare is one area where this is particularly important. As the data above shows, healthcare providers can no longer assume their patients will be tied to a landline or even reading their email — especially in this era of email overload. The good news is that there’s one mobile technology that guarantees communication with patients: SMS (text messaging).
Data points to why SMS is such an effective communication tool: people read 98% of the text messages they receive; they also read 90% of text messages within three minutes of delivery and respond to these messages within an average of 90 seconds.
Healthcare institutions that want to connect with their patients via SMS should pay attention to these figures. SMS can help with many aspects of the healthcare process, such as sending patients appointment and follow-up reminders, information about schedule changes, timely medical advice and more. SMS also has the advantage of making this communication feel more personal, since messages are sent to individual’s phones.
Patient Support: Case Studies
In the last decade, many healthcare providers — including those in remote areas — have leveraged SMS for patient services.
In 2008, St Gabriel’s Hospital, which is located in a rural area of Malawi, implemented an SMS support system, connecting the hospital to 600 community health workers and to the 250,000 patients it serves. This let the hospital keep track of patients, provide information on drug dosages to health workers and allowed health workers to update the hospital on their patients’ status. The system also enabled the hospital to handle requests for remote patient care and fostered more collaboration and connection between medical staff and their patients.
In Rwanda, the Ministry of Health implemented a SMS notification system to keep community health workers up to date on the progress of pregnant women in their area. The system notifies health workers when they need to intervene and has led to a significant reduction in Rwanda’s infant mortality rate.
In Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa, the SMS for Life program uses SMS and mapping technology to enable quick reporting of anti-malarial drug inventory. In exchange for responding to SMS requests for stock count, health workers receive free air time on their mobile phones. With this program, out-of-stocks fell from 79% to under 26%, and most facilities were able to maintain their inventory.
In South Africa, Project Masiluleke uses SMS as a key tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB. The project has used a free text message service available in the area to let people call help centers for free. The project also is considering a self-testing program that will send test results to patients via SMS.
In New York City, healthcare providers are using SMS and social media to improve the effectiveness of a weight loss program. The program uses Twitter to get people to opt into a text message program that provides daily nutritional tips.
Other examples of SMS patient support include:
- Using text messaging to improve patients’ knowledge and foster behavioral change.
- Sending text message reminders to help cancer patients keep up with their medication regime.
- Improving attendance and timeliness for scheduled vaccinations via SMS reminders.
All these examples show how ubiquitous mobile devices have become. Healthcare institutions can capitalize on this phenomenon by leveraging SMS to connect with patients. The technology improves efficiency for healthcare institutions, but it also can improve outcomes. And that’s a win for both patients and the people who serve them.