SMS texting for healthcare, in our experience, is by far the easiest way to stay in touch with your patients. We have been using texting in healthcare for a while now and have had tremendous results. During COVID-19 times, we had to communicate patient bumps (cancellations/rescheduling) on a mass scale as well. We cut down our centralized healthcare call center efforts by more than 70% by using SMS texting.
Why use SMS texting in healthcare?
Research has shown that almost 90% of patients stated that they wanted to use SMS texting to communicate with their doctor offices while only 10% said that they prefer patient portals.
Mobile web traffic is already higher than desktop web traffic – read the stats here. Google is focusing on local search as well. In other words – the world is using mobile more and more each day (and this trend will only continue).
Campaignmonitor published a research that shows that SMS open rates are as high as 98%, compared to just 20% of all emails.
Our healthcare call center has seen similar numbers as well. On top of this, we have found that SMS are replied to within 60 seconds of sending the message. This far exceeds our open and response rates compared to emails.
We are not saying that email is dead or that you should not use email for communications. In fact, our recommendation is to use a mix of both.
However, the fact remains that the ROI of SMS communications with patients is extremely high – in addition to reducing the manpower overheads of calling patients.
Patient communications in healthcare
Our patient contact / call center team communicates with our patients about the following (non exhaustive list):
- New referral from referring partners
- Patient demographics update request
- Insurance card update request
- Consent form signature requests (part of digital patient intake)
- Appointment confirmation
- Appointment reminders
- Re-appointing no-shows
- Re-appointing cancellations
- Rescheduling appointments
- Patient bumps
- Reappointment of recalls
- Patient satisfaction surveys
- Patient reviews SMS
- Payment confirmation
- Patient balance payment reminders
- Customer service queries from patients
- Billing enquiries from patients
Our call center also calls and follows up with patients that do not respond to SMS.
HIPAA and SMS texting
SMS is not HIPAA secure / compliant – we all know that. However, when is SMS texting compliant? Basically, it all starts with patient consent. The first thing you need to do is to warn the patient, then get the consent from the patient. Next thing is to document these. That’s it.
So, if you want to move your entire practice communications to SMS texting, you need to get this consent and send the warning from the first SMS to the patient.
Available options for SMS texting with patients
There are several vendors that have SMS texting software including (but not limited to)
- Karuna – this vendor also synchronizes the SMS with patients into the EMR
- Our patient SMS software (contact us)
- Many, many more
Features to look for in a patient SMS platform
Here are some guidelines from our medical call center team. Since they live and breathe this every day – they are the front desks for various healthcare practices, our software development is guided by their needs.
There’s no silver bullet of what SMS works and what does not. You need to experiment with what works with your patient population. Your SMS texting platform software vendor should allow you to create SMS templates that you can experiment with.
Marking numbers with delivery status
It’s very easy for SMS texting platforms to find out the delivery status of SMS sent to numbers. Your software vendor should have this as well. If an SMS is not delivered, you should not have to waste money on sending SMS to undeliverable numbers. On top of it, this also alerts your front desk / call center staff to collect mobile numbers the next time they get in touch with the patient.
Ability to label conversations / file them away
This really does help. When you have the large volume of SMS that we handle, you cannot possibly have them all sitting in the inbox (much like what we do with our emails). It is really helpful to be able to file SMS away into folders like we do with emails and be able to search for the text later one.
Showing patient name instead of just the phone number
If your SMS texting platform is not tied to your EMR, you can still operate by just uploading CSV files, but it gets really painful as a front desk person to keep operating with just phone numbers. Your vendor should definitely tie in with your EMR and show you the patient names. The other way around this is to upload new patients every day via a CSV file upload (if your vendor allows that).
SMS communication consent SMS
We don’t have a real need for sending PHI over SMS as we rely on sending HIPAA secure website links to our patients. However, in the first SMS itself, we ask for the patient’s consent to communicate over SMS. It’s as simple as “Hi <patient first name>, Would you like to communicate via SMS with <our practice name>? Please be aware that SMS is not HIPAA secure. We need your consent before we can send you any PHI. Please reply Y if you want to use SMS or N if you do not.”
If the patient does consent to it, this information is documented in the EMR as a note. If the patient does not consent to it, we only communicate via HIPAA secure website links.
SMS sent for new referral from referring partners
As soon as a referring partner sends a referral either via our customers’ website itself or using a patient referral platform (e.g. here), the patient should be sent an SMS and be asked to get involved in their care. Our call center team has discovered that patients that get involved in their own care and appointment, tend to show up for appointments more. The SMS we send patients referred to one of our customers’ practices is something as simple as “Hi <patient first name>, Dr <referring provider last name> has referred you to us at <our practice name> for an appointment. Could you please update your details so we can get you an appointment ASAP? Here’s the link <link to update their own data>. Feel free to call us anytime at <our practice number> or text us back.”
Patient demographics update request SMS
This is the first SMS that the patient gets. If the patient does not respond to this SMS, there are only two reasons.
- The phone number is not a mobile
- Patient is not responsive on SMS
Either way, the call center team calls the patient to verify their demographics and insurance data, then gets the patient an appointment based on their convenience. This SMS is along the lines of “Hi <patient first name>, We want to prepare for your upcoming appt. Can you please confirm your contact details so you don’t have to wait long before your appt? Here’s the link <link to update their own data>. Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime”
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SMS with insurance card update request
After the patient has updated their demographics information, the patient is asked to update their insurance details. This truly helps with medical billing later on and reduces downstream billing errors + headaches. Our SMS platform also sends the patient’s personal record via a HIPAA secure web link. This allows the patient to upload their insurance card photos as well. If the patient enters their member ID correctly, the SMS platform can also check for eligibility immediately. The SMS format is generally like “Hi <patient first name>, We want to make sure your insurance details are OK for your upcoming appt. Can you please upload your insurance card photos so you don’t have to wait long before your appt? Here’s the link <link to update their own data>. Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime”
Consent form signature requests SMS (part of digital patient intake)
The SMS digital intake software should also try to get patients to sign the consent forms. Usually when we send the HIPAA secure website link to the patient, that itself has the insurance details pages and also the consent form pages to sign. If the patient has not signed the consent forms, we send them a reminder to do so. The SMS is like this “Hi <patient first name>, We want to make sure you don’t have to wait long before your appt. Can you please sign these consent forms before we can see you? Here’s the link <link to update their own data>. Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime”
Appointment confirmation SMS
As soon as an appointment is confirmed by our front desk / call center agent, the patient gets an SMS with the details. This actually gives the front desk and call center agents a reason to ask for patients’ cell phone numbers as well. This has been great success thus far and patients are more than happy to receive the appointment confirmation plus location details via SMS. That’s as simple as sending an SMS like “Hi <patient first name>, Your appt with <dr name> is confirmed for <date time>. We are located at <location address>. Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
Appointment reminders SMS
The national average no show rates hover around 30% and customers come to us with similar or higher no-show rates. This is where appointment reminders help. We have noticed that sending appointment reminders 7 days before, then 2 days before and finally on the day of the appointment helps reduce the no-show rate. In each reminder SMS, we also give the patients the option to reschedule the appointment (we try not to use the word cancel in our SMS messages – just human psychology). The SMS is like this “Hi <patient first name>, A friendly reminder about your upcoming appt with <dr name>, <practice name> for <date time>. We are located at <location address>. If you need to reschedule, call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
SMS for re-appointment of no-shows
We try not to delay in Re-appointing no-shows and have found that if the patient is contacted within a week of their being a no-show for their appointment, 90+% of patients agree to coming back for the appointment. As with every other SMS, we also follow up with patients if they do not respond to our SMS. This SMS sample is “Hi <patient first name>, Sorry you missed your appt with <dr name>, <practice name> for <date time>. What date would work better for you to come in? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
SMS for re-appointing cancellations
Patients cancel for various reasons. We have noticed that if we reach back out to the patients, they usually agree to keeping the appointment (or making a new one). We don’t send the SMS immediately after they cancel. Instead, we wait for 2-3 weeks before we reach out to patients. “Hi <patient first name>, Sorry you had to cancel your appt with <dr name>, <practice name> for <date time>. What date would work better for you to come in? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
Rescheduling appointments SMS
Patients reschedule for whatever reason and sometimes our office has to reschedule them as well. Reasons include prior authorization not clearing up on time, or insurance eligibility checks failing etc. Whatever the reason be, we do not cancel the appointment as we do not want to lose that patient. Instead, when we have to reschedule the patient’s appointment, we send them an SMS like “Hi <patient first name>, Sorry but we need to reschedule your appt with <dr name>, <practice name> for <date time>. What date would work better for you to come in? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”. When the patient reschedules, we just send them an appointment confirmation SMS with the new date and time of their appointment.
Patient bumps SMS (including one used during COVID-19)
For COVID, we ended up requesting the patients to cancel / reschedule their appointment. The SMS was very respectful “Hi <patient first name>, Considering the current conditions, can we please reschedule your appointment (unless you feel you have an emergency)? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime”
For times when we need to reschedule a patient due to unavoidable situations (issues in the office, provider could not make it to the office), we send “Hi <patient first name>, Sorry you but we need to reschedule your appt with <dr name>, <practice name> for <date time> as we ran into some challenges at the office. What date would work better for you to come in? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
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SMS for re-appointment of recall patients
We are able to increase our patient pipeline tremendously by re-appointing patients that have fallen out of care for more than 6 months. Typically many patients end up thanking our providers for calling them back in for an appointment. Our providers have been told by patients “Thank you for looking out for my health. I usually do not remember these things”. This really boosts the morale of the practice staff. To recall patients, we simply send them an SMS “Hi <patient first name>, Sorry we haven’t seen you since <last encounter date>. <last encounter dr name>, <practice name> would like to see you again. What date would work for you to come in? Call us <our practice number> or text us back anytime. See you soon!”
Patient satisfaction surveys SMS
Typically we send patient review requests within 30 mins after the patient is marked as CHECKEDOUT in our customers’ EMRs. However, sometimes (around once a quarter), we do send out satisfaction survey requests as well – the results are looped back into feedback for our practice staff and doctors. The satisfaction survey SMS “Hi <patient first name>, Our doctors and staff at <practice name> would love to get your feedback to help us improve. Can you please let us know here <link for survey>? Thank you so much!”
Patient reviews SMS
Each patient gets an SMS within 30 mins after the patient is marked CHECKEDOUT by our front desk staff. This is the standard SMS that we all get after we see our doctors “Hi <patient first name>, Thank you for trusting us at <practice name> with your health. Can you please leave us a review at <google review link>”.
We have noticed that patients not only leave reviews on Google or Facebook but often they also just send their “reviews” back via SMS instead of leaving a google or facebook review. We typically respond to those SMS requesting the patient to leave the same review online – some of the times patients do actually leave a review on Google/Facebook.
Payment confirmation SMS
We try to have patients’ credit cards on file (CCOF program) but it is not always possible to do so. However, when we do have a payment made by a patient we try to establish an SMS relationship with them then itself. The SMS is a simple thank you for paying their dues. “Hi <patient first name>, Thank you for your payment of <amount> at <practice name>. We appreciate you choosing us for your healthcare needs”.
Patient balance payment reminders SMS
With rising costs in healthcare and patients being required to carry more of their healthcare expenses out of pocket, more often than not, patients have a balance due after we process their claims. We generally send out a gentle reminder to patients for them to pay their balances via another patient bill pay portal that we use for our customers. The SMS is “Hi <patient first name>, A friendly reminder that a balance payment of <amount> is due for your last appt at <practice name> after processing your insurance claim. We appreciate your prompt payment at <link for payment portal>”.
Hopefully this guide helps you get started with texting for your medical practice.