When Time and Attention Matter Most

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The impact of mobile messaging on patient engagement and healthcare outcomes

By Cliff Holsenbeck, iconectiv

At the heart of healthcare, there may be nothing more important than time and attention, particularly when it comes to a health emergency. The current pandemic is a prime example. According to Johns Hopkins, fewer people are keeping to regular appointments and putting off preventive screenings while hospitals and healthcare systems are still in crisis mode with another spike in cases across the country. Pre-COVID, the healthcare industry relied mostly on face-to-face patient communication though there has been a gradual shift toward new digital technologies that are aimed at increasing patient engagement and promoting preventive care. 

Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided evidence in 2014 that mobile messaging improves consumer health knowledge, behaviors and outcomes, it is just now becoming an essential tool for providers who are realizing the need for timely communication with patients not only regarding COVID but also existing healthcare issues and concerns. For example, Kaiser Permanente has been utilizing short message service (SMS) texting since 2015, when it began a one-month pilot program to test the efficacy of messaging to contain communication costs while keeping engagement high. For brand integrity, Kaiser implemented the use of short codes, five-or six-digit numbers that are universally accessible on almost all U.S. networks and mobile devices and are simple to use. Using short codes, Kaiser was able to easily engage existing patients to opt into patient appointment reminders and outreach campaigns via SMS text messaging. 

Through its pilot, Kaiser found that only 1.8% of its user test group opted out or asked not to receive future text reminders. In addition, the program demonstrated an improvement of appointment no shows (1,837 fewer) and cost containment in communication infrastructure, with SMS appointment reminders alone saving a single clinic over $275,000. Since launching, Kaiser has continued to evolve its text messaging program to include prescription pick-up and waiting room notifications. Following the pilot of its prescription program, Kaiser found that interactive, tailored text message notifications can improve medication adherence by 14 percent, especially among Medicare patients.

Kaiser has also used text messaging for external initiatives, including its Food for Life program that addresses food insecurity nationwide by enabling participants to apply for benefits that provide access to affordable and healthy food. According to the Sacramento Bee, the program signed up more than 11,000 of its neediest California members in 2019, providing them up to $200 a month for groceries.

Kaiser’s results offer solid antidotal evidence that text messaging expands healthcare providers’ options for communicating with their patients, as well as community members and organizations. In addition to the implementation of short codes offering reliable and safe best practices for healthcare providers at a time when reducing touchpoints is important, it also has the potential to improve patient satisfaction, retention and acquisition through timely communication. 

Outside of healthcare, myriad statistics show that, in general, texting has a 98% open rate and 90% read rate within three minutes. Given that a patient must opt-in to receive information, messages sent via short codes have a higher probability to increase patient response rates than other text messaging options. Because short codes must be registered and are closely monitored, they are well suited for medical communications, as long as best practices are in place that comply with HIPPA regulations. For instance, personalized patient information should never be shared and patients should always be able to opt out if they no longer want to receive text message communications.

Communicating through a long-lasting pandemic has been extremely challenging for providers and patients alike. While we have certainly learned valuable lessons over the course of 2020, it is evident that time and attention are likely the most significant factors in keeping people engaged, safe and feeling connected. Now with social distancing guidelines still in place in many cities and states, more health systems and providers are recognizing the tremendous benefits of being able to offer quality care from a distance. 

Cliff Holsenbeck is senior director of product management, trusted communications at iconectiv and is responsible for overseeing the suite of products bringing increased trust in business-to-consumer (B2C) communications in voice, messaging and data. This includes managing iconectiv’s role as the administrator of the U.S. Short Code Registry on behalf of the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA).

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