Improving the patient experience one text message at a time

By andrea on July 13, 2017

The days of depending on postcards and voicemails for appointment reminders might not be over just yet, but they’re coming to a close due to the rising popularity of text messaging as a communications channel for many dental offices and health-care providers. With more than 240 million smartphone users in North America in 2017, consumers have grown to depend on, and demand, text messaging services that allow them to interact with the businesses and brands they use and trust.

A recent national survey found that consumers overwhelmingly prefer using SMS over email and voice communications when engaging with businesses, finding it more relevant and timely:

● Respondents read 82% of their text messages within five minutes, versus opening only one in four business emails.

● Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) stated they would react negatively if a company did not offer SMS as a communications channel.

Dental offices, pharmacies, and other innovative health-care organizations are increasingly leveraging SMS as a strategic communications channel to make the patient experience easier and more convenient. Here’s what it can accomplish.

Reducing no-showsMissed appointments have a big impact on a health-care provider’s revenue. On average, about 10% of dental appointments are no-shows. However, with well-executed appointment reminders, dental practices, and other appointment-based businesses can minimize the number of no-shows and increase their revenues as much as 20% Patients have responded well to this move. In fact, 55% of the survey respondents noted text messaging as the preferred method of communication of appointment reminders versus email, which was preferred by only 35%.

Maximizing schedules and minimizing operational costs—SMS has also been shown to optimize appointment schedules and staffing. Offices with waitlists have the ability to text patients with last-minute openings, which allows patients to fill appointment slots, and the staff on hand stays busy during what could have been a down time.

SMS is also more efficient than phone calls in terms of time. Weave, a patient communications software company, notes that the average phone call takes about 90 seconds, while the average text message takes only 13 seconds to send. This adds up to a savings of about 12 hours per month, not to mention that patients are happy they have a quick and intuitive way to coordinate their appointment scheduling.

Keeping patients engaged between visits—Messaging can play a key part in ensuring that patients continue their at-home care between visits. Smartphone apps such as Text2Floss sends users text reminders to brush and floss and can send notifications for tasks such as taking premedication before a dental visit. Preventive care reminders and others like these establish a strong patient-provider relationship and may increase the likelihood that patients will return for regular cleanings.

Giving patients a choice of communications methods (phone, direct mail, SMS, etc.) gives them the flexibility to interact with their dental office in the way that feels most comfortable to them. Creating an enjoyable patient experience goes beyond just what happens during an exam or dental procedure.

As stated in a recent blog from Weave, “Let’s face it: patients don’t refer your practice to their friends because a teeth cleaning is so wonderfully thorough. It’s the combination of quality health care (the functional benefit) alongside more emotional benefits, such as personalized service and attention, convenient amenities like Wi-Fi in the office, and reducing hassles around patient interaction, that build a loyal patient base.”