By Jeanae DuBois
Patient safety is a fundamental aspect of optimal healthcare delivery. The World Health Organization (WHO) deems the discipline of patient safety—actions and protocols that “prevent and reduce risks, errors and harm that occur to patients”—as a global health priority. Evolving technologies are improving communication channels with patients, which is key to reducing safety issues. However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, all touchpoints in today’s healthcare systems now have a new layer of complexity.
Patient and provider collaboration is required to monitor and adjust medication and treatment plans, assess risk, and elicit the patient’s support network for visits, follow-up care, and therapy. This activity requires personal and continual communication that can be improved via technical innovations.
Prior to COVID-19, many provider organizations developed new strategies to expand in-person patient engagement, health monitoring, and education. But as the healthcare sector struggled over the past year to deal with the pandemic, these engagement plans fell to the wayside, according to a recent report. Non-COVID-19 patient appointments dropped sharply, as those requiring routine care or suffering from chronic conditions deferred visits and as state and local governments enacted lockdown orders.
As a result, many non-urgent medical in-person visits have been replaced with video. The challenge is that many individuals in rural areas lack a reliable broadband connection, rendering telemedicine options inaccessible. Mobile communication is quickly becoming the ideal channel for reaching those isolated geographically from medical providers because it doesn’t require a high-speed internet connection.
As the range of communication technologies continues to expand, simple SMS is proving to be the preferred and most effective method for reaching patients. According to a Luma Health analysis, patients are up to 35% more likely to read and respond to texts than they are to answer a phone or email. Mobile technology like SMS also adds to patient safety, according to 94% of physicians and 90% of hospital leaders surveyed who listed texts as their first choice for patient interaction.
Most Americans (96%) own a cell phone, and texting is a broadly accessible feature, as it does not require a smartphone. These factors make SMS particularly effective for reaching underserved/rural communities. In addition, an SMS message carries a sense of urgency and credibility. As a result, patients are more willing to trust and react to the content that is being delivered straight to their mobile devices.
Patient outcomes include improved access to providers, medication support, post-procedure care adherence, better general health, and lower costs. Regular messages from healthcare providers encourage patients to maintain at-home and preventive care.
While one-way communication is an effective method for healthcare providers to share info, patients also like the option of two-way messaging. SMS allows patients to ask questions or relay medical data to their health teams quickly and easily.
Healthcare facilities that leverage SMS communication gain organizational efficiency and patient and staff satisfaction. Because this form of communication can be automated, it reduces time previously spent on making phone calls or sending emails. When medical emergencies like COVID-19 occur, time-critical medical information can be instantly conveyed to a large patient population via mobile message.
As vaccine distribution increases, mobile messaging can help providers reach larger populations in real time with information about vaccination availability. Reports of vaccine waste due to cancellations and people not showing up to appointments are on the rise. This waste can be avoided if populations are notified about slot openings. To further control the spread of COVID-19, mobile devices can also be used to track symptoms and conduct efficient contact tracing.
SMS has been leveraged successfully to improve patient outcomes, such as when provider Access.Mobile partnered with Emory’s Collaborative Community Outreach and Health Disparities Group to communicate with widespread metro Atlanta populations through their phones. Atlantans received timely information about COVID-19 prevention strategies, online symptom checking, mobile testing sites, contact tracing, and community-based or telehealth services this winter.
Meeting patients on familiar platforms increases the likelihood of adoption and use. Healthcare organizations and individuals across the globe have been the heroic front line fighting the pandemic during this past year. Healthcare workers continue their important work managing vaccinations and straining to contain infection surges, all the while handling backed-up chronic and preventive care needs from patients. Investing in mobile patient engagement strategies with the ability to convey custom messaging solutions through SMS can be a powerful tool for public health. A text message—a simple but elegant channel for collaboration—can produce valuable community health benefits.
Jeanae DuBois is chief marketing officer at Bitwise Industries, and an accomplished marketing and branding leader with 20+ years in the industry. She oversees global marketing strategy and an integrated marketing team that handles inbound and outbound marketing, campaign execution, branding, client development, public relations, corporate and community events, and internal sales enablement.