July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. How courteous are you when texting with your patients?
Many providers now use automated text messages to remind patients of their upcoming appointments. This decreases patient no-shows and improves patients’ on-time arrivals. Providers also use automated messages to alert patients to take their medication, to remind them about proper dietary choices, or to provide instructions prior to a procedure or visit.
In 2015, the American Heart Association reported that at 2 months, 100% of patients studied had improved their adherence to a medication schedule when receiving automated text messages (the mean age of participation in this study was 65 years). With technological advances and the availability of HIPAA-compliant text message programs, providers can now answer questions and help patients manage their symptoms via text message.
The Center for Connected Health in Boston and Harvard Medical School partnered with the Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC) in Massachusetts to offer 40 patients the opportunity to receive text messages from the hospital in addition to their regular care for a year. One-time and repetitive text messages were sent to two groups: pregnant women (OB) and opioid addicts in treatment (STAR). The age range for the OB group was 14-32 years and the range for the STAR group was 22-54 years. The OB group received weekly and monthly reminders and the STAR group received weekly motivational messages and reminders of program requirements or appointments.
This table shows the results of the survey taken after the year of messages for each program.
Reviews of the text messaging program from participating patients included:
The study showed that patients were highly satisfied with receiving text messages generally, and that they appreciated a weekly frequency of messages. Messages which were personalized by their provider’s staff were the most effective.
Importantly, about 20% of those offered participation in the program refused because they weren’t sure if their cell phone plan had unlimited texting and were worried about additional fees and rates. When these concerns arise, providers should take care to use less frequent and shorter messages (to ensure they aren’t bifurcated into multiple messages). Further, it’s crucial to obtain patients’ consent to receiving text messages from their providers, and if possible, there should be an initial “opt-in”/”opt-out” confirmation message sent. Written authorization to potentially unencrypted communication should also be obtained prior to sending such messages (we generally recommend that this be included in providers’ registration packets).
A low-cost text message reminder system—a pilot study, Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center.
Oicles, Chantal. Is Automated Text Messaging Improving Healthcare? ReminderCall.com (Apr 15, 2015).
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