Automated Text Appointment Reminders to Reduce Patient No-Shows

Text appointment reminders offer healthcare organizations an effective, scalable strategy to reduce patient no-shows and reach patients of all demographics and geographic locations with information to help patients remember their appointments, confirm their plans to attend, cancel, or request to reschedule. These simple tasks have been shown to help hospitals, health systems, and large medical groups reduce patient no-show rates, reclaim lost revenue, drive better patient adherence to follow-up and preventive care, and result in healthier outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.

Why Use a Text Appointment Reminder Service

Healthcare leaders have been working to reduce patient no-show rates across their organizations for years, starting with manual processes like patient phone calls and reminder letters. While these strategies were initially helpful, they weren’t sustainable and often fell to the wayside during busy seasons or when staffing was low.

Automated appointment reminders showed up on the scene years ago, promising to solve the no-show dilemma and create better efficiency for medical offices. While there’s been measurable improvement in organizations that have implemented automated appointment reminders, many are still dealing with frustrations related to patient no-shows and are compensating with resource-intensive processes that are manual, unscalable, and fail to deliver the desired results. In this article, we’ll take a look at why this is and how patient-centered engagement, namely text reminders, can deliver higher ROI and long-term, sustainable results. So why text over any other communication method? 

Text messages get seen 

The average American checks his or her phone 96 times per day, that’s a 20% increase from statistics gathered two years ago. For healthcare leaders looking to find the best strategies to reduce patient no-shows, this means text reminders offer the greatest chance of being seen. And because patients rarely answer phone calls anymore, text reminders are even more important for getting a patient’s attention and yielding a response.

Text messages are quick

Text reminders offer patients both privacy and convenience—they can quickly view a message from their phone without interrupting a current conversation or excusing themselves to take a phone call. And it isn’t just viewing a text message that’s quick, patients can quickly respond to a text reminder as well, increasing the likelihood that a patient will follow-thru with their scheduled appointment or notify the medical office if something has changed.

Text messages are engaging 

When used correctly, text reminders can convey tone and personalization that first-generation solutions, like using automated voice calls alone, can’t deliver. Text messages were used across the country COVID-19 by medical providers seeking to keep patients updated and informed as processes and procedures changed almost daily. Providers and their staff needed to quickly communicate to large groups of patients how and when to arrive for an appointment, whether or not a support person was allowed to accompany a patient, whether or not a face covering or mask was required, how to access Telehealth appointments, and more. As the crisis phase of COVID-19 resolved and medical practices opened back up, reminder texts were used to welcome patients back to the office, educate them about what to expect, and reassure them that telemedicine was still available to those who needed or preferred it.

Text messages are everywhere 

The use of text messaging spans populations across the earth, in places where cable and television aren’t available people still communicate via mobile devices. In the United States, where 99.7% of the population lives in areas covered by 4G LTE, text messaging is the preferred form of communication for consumers and patients young, old, wealthy, poor, urban, rural, and across countless other demographic and geographic variables.

When to Get Patients Enrolled for Text Message Appointment Reminders

The patient journey offers many opportunities to enroll patients in text reminders, and as the patient journey grows increasingly digital this task can be automated and worked into strategies like online scheduling and electronic registration as well. 

During scheduling 

Whether you’re scheduling appointments through a call center or doing it over the phone and at the front desk, the process of scheduling a patient’s appointment is an intuitive opportunity to educate patients about your text appointment reminders and get them enrolled. Use something as simple as, “we send our patients text appointment reminders, do I have your cell phone on file?” 

Online appointments 

Online scheduling software allows patients to view appointment availability and book or request their own appointments, it’s also an easy way to inform patients that they’ll be receiving an appointment reminder via text and have the patient verify their contact information. The use of patient forms and pop-up windows can make scheduling workflows intuitive for patients and ensure a practice has the information they need to communicate effectively before, during, and after the appointment. 

In the waiting room

Patients can spend upwards of 18 minutes in the waiting room at a medical appointment, this is a great time to enroll a patient in text appointment reminders. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations are quickly opting for zero-contact processes that mitigate the risk of spreading illness and have started using digital patient registration to obtain patient consent, medical and prescription history, and payer information. It’s easy to incorporate patient enrollment into reminder messaging in this process.

How to Write an Effective Text Message Appointment Reminder

Text appointment reminders are most effective when they include a small amount of information that is unique to the patient, delivered in the right intervals to elicit a response. Below is a standard message template that can help you ensure your appointment reminder system will deliver the highest patient engagement, the lowest number of patient no-shows, and the best ROI for your investment.

Sample doctor appointment reminder template

Legality around using text messages at a medical practice 

Healthcare is a highly regulated industry and for good reason. Regulations like HIPAA, TCPA, and even CAN-SPAM both protect patient privacy and make room for exceptions to normal patient consent rules. Below we’ll answer some common questions about how to use text messages effectively and maintain HIPAA compliance while doing so.

Can a doctor text a patient? 

Yes! Doctors can text their patients and protect PHI and regulatory compliance while they’re at it. In order to protect a patient’s privacy, text appointment reminders should include basic appointment information that won’t identify anything about the patient’s specific healthcare needs. These types of reminders include information like:

  • Date and time of appointment
  • Provider name
  • Appointment location

Avoid including information about the provider’s specialty or the name of any testing or procedures scheduled in the appointment as they can be used to identify a patient’s disease or other private health information.

For conversations that contain PHI, like patient follow-up or clinical questions patients have for medical staff, be sure to use a secure two-way messaging solution that protects patient information with a unique link for access and a method for verifying identity and authorization. Learn more here. 

Patient consent to receive text messages

While consumer industries are required to obtain consumer consent to send information via text message, TCPA makes it acceptable for healthcare organizations to text patients without this consent as long as the information in the text pertains to their health. Still, it’s important to keep a Notice of Privacy Practices up to date at all times, letting patients know that you will be sending automated reminders via SMS and educating them on how to opt-out if they don’t wish to receive text messages from your medical practice or organization.

Other best practices related to SMS reminders include verifying patient contact information on a regular basis and documenting a patient’s preferred method of communication. The strongest patient engagement strategies are anchored by the use text reminders and combine them with email appointment reminders and voice reminders.

Are text messages HIPAA compliant?

While appointment reminders are considered HIPAA compliant, this isn’t true for all text messages so be sure to educate your staff and be careful when texting patients. According to HHS.gov, “Appointment reminders are considered part of treatment of an individual and, therefore, can be made without an authorization.” 

Conclusion

Reminder messages have been used for a long time in medical groups, hospitals, and health systems to reduce patient no-shows. However, not all automated appointment reminder solutions are created equal—strategies that are aligned to patient behaviors, preferences, and habits will deliver far better results than those that utilize only one communication method or don’t include texting. Appointment reminder texts are the best anchor for an appointment reminder strategy as they offer the highest open and reply rates and are accessible to patients on their mobile devices. It’s important to combine appointment reminder texts with email reminders and voice calls to account for all patient demographics and preferences, so it’s important to work with a vendor who offers all three modalities and won’t nickel and dime you or put a limit on the number of messages that can go out in a given period of time. There are many opportunities throughout the patient journey to enroll patients in automated appointment reminders, be sure to identify a process for how and when to do this and carry it out consistently across locations and specialties. Finally, text message reminders are considered HIPAA compliant per HHS but it’s also important to use best practices to ensure identifying patient information isn’t included in appointment reminder messaging.

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