Hospitals and health systems employ various channels such as websites, phone calls, email, and recently, even texting to take advantage of patient engagement opportunities. But certain tactics like direct mail are considered outdated, and for good reason. Studies over the last two decades estimate that administrative expenses (including marketing to patients) cost health systems between $600 billion and $1 trillion annually. So, it makes sense that health leaders are looking for ways to reduce spending and improve the digital experience for patients. This often involves making the most of existing technology investments—including patient portals and EHRs.
With these industry-wide objectives in mind, we surveyed health IT executives about their patient engagement opportunities and challenges. Responses revealed the limitations of current-state technology, as well as takeaways regarding how they plan to leverage new platforms to reach future-state engagement, efficiency and revenue goals.
The Challenge: Over-Reliance on Patient Portals and Manual Outreach
Nearly half of surveyed health IT leaders state that the patient portal is their organization’s primary method for patient engagement. And overall, 90% of providers offer access to a patient portal—but only 30% of patients have integrated the tool into their daily lives, making it ineffective to route engagement activities exclusively through portals.
Manual, phone-based outreach is also still widespread. Relying upon this labor-intensive method of patient communication is burdensome to staff, leads to greater call center costs, and detracts from the patient experience. In fact, more than one-third of surveyed executives still cited manual phone calls as the primary method of patient communication at their hospital or health system. As staffing constraints put continued pressure on hospitals and health systems, trying to reach patients by phone leads to frustrated staff and dissatisfied patients because most Americans don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.
While half of respondents said they want to invest in tech that connects with patients via text, less than 40% are currently employing SMS for patient engagement opportunities like recalls, referral management, and appointment self-scheduling or rescheduling.
The Opportunity: Text Complements Today’s Tools and Tech
Text messaging, or SMS, is a proven way to address all of these challenges and patients prefer it over email, phone and mailed letters. However, while it’s easy to implement for healthcare organizations and user-friendly for staff, this communication method has seen slow adoption. For one, organizations have already made significant investments in their patient portals and don’t realize the benefits of a multi-channel approach, where SMS actually drives portal usage.
For example, colonoscopies are important diagnostic and preventive procedures—with specific and timely preparation instructions. When these instructions aren’t followed, it can lead to insufficient prep and cancelled or rescheduled procedures, which in turn drives up costs and lost revenue.
The most advanced digital engagement platforms can actually automate and optimize this complex workflow. This is accomplished by leveraging the EHR’s appointment data to send a cadence of just-in-time text messages including: strategically timed appointment reminders, reminders to pick up prep from the pharmacy, and links to a patient portal where patients can learn more about what’s involved and the benefits of the procedure. In addition, when patients have questions, this SMS outreach can also state the best time and number to reach their provider’s office. For one health system that serves over 500,000 patients, HouseCalls Pro automated a similar SMS workflow that resulted in a marked reduction in the number of canceled colonoscopies and saved staff time on manual patient outreach.
This example illustrates how SMS outreach can complement the investments already made in portals and electronic health records (EHRs). And leading platforms like HouseCalls Pro integrate with the leading EHRs, automating interactive SMS messages that allow patients to respond to outreach in real-time, all from the platform clinicians and scheduling staff use every day. In fact, research has demonstrated the value of SMS in engaging patients for care interventions, finding that “…patients particularly welcomed the asynchronous nature of text messaging, and the ability to get some of their healthcare needs met in between appointments.”
There are a variety of common patient engagement opportunities and communication workflows that can be automated using two-way, real-time SMS messaging, including:
- Referral management
- Appointment self-scheduling or rescheduling
- Pre-procedure notifications or instructions
- Post-discharge instructions or procedure follow-up
- Recalls for preventive care visits
When this type of automated SMS outreach works alongside patient portals, patients are empowered to act on their care through the right channels—they can schedule a follow-up visit from a text just as easily as they can conduct an in-depth review of their medical records from an online portal.
Our survey of health IT decision makers reveals even more about the top patient engagement opportunities—you can download the full report here. And if you’re interested in what HouseCalls Pro can do for your organization, reach out to our team to schedule a demo.