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5 Ways Providers Can Use SMS Text Messaging to Communicate with Patients During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

5 Ways Providers Can Use SMS Text Messaging to Communicate with Patients During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to cause widespread fear and uncertainty for patients and providers alike. As the healthcare system is being turned upside down, front office staff is dealing with canceling non-essential medical visits, scheduling new telehealth visits, rapidly screening patients for COVID-19, communicating with quarantined patients to determine if symptoms are worsening, and quickly disseminating information about the evolving situation.

In these chaotic times, it’s imperative for healthcare providers to establish a communication channel with patients that allows for the quick and easy exchange of information. What’s the most efficient way to communicate with patients today? Text Messaging (SMS).

With that in mind, I’m going to share five ways healthcare providers can use text messaging to communicate with patients during the coronavirus outbreak.  But, first, here are some stats that underscore why texting is the ideal medium for reaching and engaging with patients during these tumultuous times:

1. Our own Luma Health research shows that contrary to popular belief, seniors are using texting to communicate with providers. A majority of patients ages 65-84 actively engage with their providers via text and respond to appointment reminders.

2. 90 percent of people read text messages within the first three minutes of receiving them. This is in stark contrast to the effectiveness of emails. Only 24 percent of emails are opened in the first hour of being received, and a high percentage of emails are never opened.

3. CTIA’s 2019 Annual Report found that 76 percent of customers don’t like talking to businesses on the phone, and 84 percent of customers won’t answer a call from an unknown caller. (This blog post discusses how recent iOS updates make it more difficult for clinics to reach patients by phone.) 

4. 89 percent of people admit they “can’t live without” their smartphones, and that they always have their phones within arm’s reach. 

5. Previous Luma Health case studies have confirmed it — patients love text! We’ve compiled some of the most salient data points into a handy infographic showing why it’s time for providers to adopt text messaging.

6. But text messages themselves aren’t always enough to satisfy consumer needs: 3 out of 4 consumers report feeling frustrated when they are unable to reply to text messages from businesses.

COVID-19 Communications

5 Ways Providers Can Use Text Messaging to Communicate with Patients

1. Broadcast Information to Patients: Patients rely on their healthcare providers for information about COVID-19, strategies to prevent becoming infected, and feedback about symptoms they may be presenting. As part of our mission to improve patient-provider communication, Luma Health has granted healthcare providers complimentary 90-day access to its broadcast messaging product. Sending mass messages can dramatically improve clinicians’ ability to get the essential information about coronavirus (COVID-19) to patients in a timely manner.  Here are a few text messages providers can send patients to allay their fears while establishing patient-provider trust: 

SAMPLE TEXT MESSAGE:
“YOUR CLINIC NAME Cares: In this time of confusion, we want to help share reliable information on how to stay healthy. Please read the following from the CDC.”

SAMPLE TEXT MESSAGE:
“{{if patient.diagnosis == xxx}} {{patient.name}}, given your history, you are at higher risk of getting a complication if you were to get sick with the novel coronavirus. We recommend you take extra precautions during the outbreak by doing your utmost to avoid contact with others. Please click here for more details.”

SAMPLE TEXT MESSAGE:
For use in regions with a particularly high density of COVID-19 cases — such as Seattle, New York City, or the Bay Area.
“You are living in a high-risk area for COVID-19. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, cough, or fever, please call us immediately at {{facility.phoneNumber}}. In the interim, please avoid contact with others.”

2. Manage Cancellations: As the healthcare system becomes increasingly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, providers are canceling elective medical procedures and non-essential medical visits until the threat of the virus is diminished. But this creates communication gaps if patients aren’t aware their appointments have been canceled.

Additionally, many patients may feel uncomfortable going to medical facilities amid the spread of a contagious virus and will want to cancel on their own. In fact, Luma Health data has reflected a significant uptick in patients requesting to cancel their appointments or procedures out of fear of contracting the coronavirus at a healthcare facility. Our smart appointment reminders allow for that. With natural language processing, our platform can interpret responses such as “Nope,” “thumbs-down emoji,” or “Sorry, can’t,” as requests for cancellations. In this way, we can make it easier for both patients and providers to communicate about appointment scheduling, cancellations and reschedules.

Take a look at how the next generation of appointment reminders can help you manage cancellations and reschedules, while seamlessly filling open slots with COVID-19 patient appointments:

3. Screen Patients for COVID-19: Screening and triaging patients isn’t easy when there are hundreds or even thousands of patients to reach. Providers can leverage text messaging and email communications to screen patients for coronavirus (COVID-19). Advanced patient engagement platforms enable providers to reach every patient in their target population by leveraging multilingual, HIPAA-compliant, two-way messaging.

For example, providers can utilize text messaging to send patients links to patient screening surveys such as this one, which determines whether patients are likely to have contracted COVID-19.

We’ve already seen many providers in areas affected by the coronavirus use text-message screening to help identify individuals who may have contracted COVID-19. Here’s an example of a text message providers can send patients to digitize the initial screening process: 

SAMPLE TEXT MESSAGE:
“You are living in a high-risk area for the novel coronavirus. To help us take better care of you and prevent unnecessary complications, please fill out this short questionnaire. “If you have a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, please call {{facility.phoneNumber}} to speak with a nurse.”

4. Leverage Telehealth Platforms to Promote Social Distancing: Providers are scheduling telehealth visits to give patients greater access to care during the COVID-19 outbreak. Televisits allow patients to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus.

Luma Health is now offering a 90-day free trial for telehealth virtual visits using Cisco Webex, Twilio, and Zoom. Televisits can help protect patients from contracting COVID-19 by allowing them to stay inside as much as possible — for elderly, immunocompromised, or chronically ill patients, this is a necessity. Many patients will still need to see their providers during this time, but it may not be safe or practical for them to travel to a medical center. Televisits can help fill this gap.

Here is an example of how smart appointment reminders can automatically set up telehealth visits for patients, a capability that is more important than ever.

5. Communicate with Quarantined Patients: Televisits — aka virtual patient appointments — are a great way to communicate with COVID-19 patients quarantined in their homes. With technology, providers can monitor their patients’ symptoms to see if they are worsening or if they require in-person treatment. To learn more about our no-cost telehealth trial, request a demo here.

Not only can providers leverage text messaging to schedule televisits, they can use technology to communicate with, and monitor the symptoms of, COVID-19 patients. Here’s an example:

Text messaging is an essential tool for communicating with patients during this outbreak. Most, if not all, patients use text messaging in their day-to-day lives. When healthcare providers leverage texting technology that incorporates artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and bidirectional EHR integration, texting patients becomes seamless. Patients are no longer limited to responding “YES” to confirm or “NO” to cancel.

I hope these communication strategies will help you connect with your patients during this difficult time. In the meantime, be sure to check out our previous post, “5 Patient Engagement Strategies to Slow the Spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” and our COVID-19 Playbook.  As always, we wish you and your loved ones health and strength during this difficult time — stay inside, and stay safe.

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