by James Hamilton
Five reasons texting is a great way to engage
Lately it seems like “engage” is becoming a very popular buzzword in a variety of industries, from social media to technology to, yes, healthcare. For healthcare providers, engagement is a very straightforward idea. It means communicating with patients in a way that inspires them to take action. Even more simply put, engagement is about moving people to action.
You’re likely already “engaging” with your patients to some degree without even thinking about it. From an orthodontist’s perspective, a very basic form of patient engagement is the appointment confirmation message. What’s the action you’re trying to encourage? A response from the patient indicating whether or not they will show up for their appointment. If they plan to show up, great!
If they don’t plan to show up, at least you have an opportunity to fill that hole in your schedule and avoid an un-used appointment slot. The problem of lost healthcare receivables due to patient no-shows and other un-used appointments is widespread. According to the MGMA, the average rate of missed appointments in the U.S. is 8%. Think about your own practice and how many of your scheduled daily or weekly appointments are missed. Everyone’s practice is different. Some have problems obtaining confirmations of the intent to attend appointments, while others have problems with patients who say they plan to come to the appointment but forget at the last minute. No matter what specific appointment-related issues you have, it’s easy to see that you’re losing money for each appointment slot that isn’t utilized.
Enter the appointment confirmation message. A very simple form of engagement communication used to elicit a very simple action — a response from patients (either yes or no) about their upcoming appointment. In other words, are they coming or not? Whether you do this today through staff-made phone calls, automated phone calls, emails or any other method, the end goal is the same — find out as early as possible whether or not the appointment slot will be filled, so you don’t end up with a hole in your schedule. Here’s what we know, based on a survey of 3,000 practices we conducted in 2010: practices that employ any kind of communication to remind patients of appointments enjoy the benefit of fewer appointment no-shows (unexpected missed appointments) than those that don’t. Only 27% of practices that remind patients of upcoming appointments have no-show rates over 10%, compared with nearly half of practices that don’t communicate any type of appointment reminder or confirmation.
We’ve definitely seen that using technology to communicate with patients about appointments has a positive impact. Not only does it reduce those unexpected missed appointments, but it also allows you to communicate more, faster and more efficiently with less effort and resources. Text messaging is one of the latest advances being offered by some technology providers, and it’s proving to be successful as an additional method of providing appointment confirmations. Here are the top five reasons why orthodontists should consider integrating text messaging into their patient communication, specifically for appointment-related messages.
1. People are texting in massive numbers
Think for a moment about all the text messages you send in a day, or for those heavy “texters” out there, the number you send in an hour. Have you ever thought about how many text messages are sent around the world in just one day? The answer is 4.1 billion. Yep, that’s billion with a B. That’s staggering. Of all these billions of text messages going back and forth each day, can you imagine how many of them your patients are sending and receiving?
Here’s another interesting fact: according to a 2008 Nielsen survey, Americans send more text messages than phone calls. For the second quarter of 2008, U.S. mobile subscribers sent and received an average of 357 text messages per month, compared with making and receiving only 204 phone calls during that same period. Keep in mind, that’s 2008 data; think about how that number has grown since the survey!
For teens or Generation Z, those numbers are even higher. According to Nielsen, American teens are texting all the time, sending or receiving an average of 3,339 texts a month in early 2010. That’s more than six texts per every hour they’re awake – an 8% jump from 2009.
What’s the takeaway? The numbers show an increased preference for texting. So even if you’re currently using other methods of communicating appointment reminders, texting is likely to be accepted, and maybe even preferred, by your patients.
2. Every mobile phone can receive a text
Every cell phone can receive a text message, but not everyone can receive an email. Why is this important? Many orthodontists have been quick to adopt emails as a way to confirm appointments, but not everyone checks their email every day. And while smartphones (the type of phone required to view email messages or surf the web) are popular, not every person has one. In fact most people have what is called a “feature” phone or a standard cell phone.
In 2009, feature phones accounted for 83% of all cell phone sales in the United States. The amount of advertising out there for iPhones, Blackberries, Androids and the like would lead you to believe that you are in a tiny minority if you have a “regular” cell phone but this is simply not the case. Only 17% of all mobile phone users in the United States have a smartphone. And while the number of smartphone users grows every year, there are still a lot of feature or standard cell phone users out there.
What’s the takeaway? Text messages are easily accessible and can be received by even the most basic cell phones. The technology available today for text appointment confirmations allows for a practice to send a text confirmation to a patient and for a patient to simply text the word “yes” back to the practice to confirm an appointment quickly and easily.
3.Texting is not just a fad for the young
So we know that younger consumers remain at the forefront of mobile technology adoption. But, according to a recent study by InsightExpress, Baby Boomers are also embracing mobile – and their behavior is surprisingly similar to younger users. Approximately 80% of study respondents reported owning a mobile phone, with mobile adoption spread relatively equally across generations: Gen Y leads the pack at 85%, followed closely by Gen X at 82%, younger Baby Boomers at 80%, and older Baby Boomers at 79%. And most importantly, all age groups are texting daily. 43% of Gen Y mobile users text every day, as do 31% of Gen X, 16% of Younger Boomers and 10% of Older Boomers.
What’s the takeaway? You likely have many patients in the Gen Z and Gen Y age bracket, so texting to communicate with them is a no-brainer. But for older patients and even the parents of your younger patients, texting is still a very viable communication method. After all, who makes sure those young kids show up to their appointments? And who’s footing the bill for their treatment?
4.Patients appreciate the communication – and the convenience
Because of the busy schedules of today’s patients, it’s easy—despite all of the electronic calendars and reminder systems—to forget appointments. Patients appreciate the communication. They have to come to rely on the reminder from your practice, and they appreciate the opportunity to quickly confirm their appointment.
A text confirmation message is a great, efficient way to reach out to patients without taking too much of their time. And it’s an easy way to get the result you need, (e.g. a confirmation that a patient is going to show up to your office for their scheduled appointment – or not). When you think about the last time you were walking down a busy street, how many people around you were NOT texting? Personally, I can’t remember a time lately when I didn’t see someone around me typing away on their cell phone.
It’s perfect for quick communication. It’s a great way to quickly communicate and receive a direct answer that you’re looking for, while still making a personalized connection with friends and family. “Are you coming over for the Super Bowl party?” “Yes.” “Are you bringing the chips and salsa?” “No.” “Why not? We’re getting hungry!” You get the idea.
What’s the takeaway? Believe it or not, the same rules apply here whether people are communicating with friends and family or with their orthodontist about things like appointments. Simply put, patients expect to be able to communicate with you this way. They can communicate with everyone else by texting, and their healthcare providers should be no different. It’s important to be able to reach out to them in a manner that is convenient for them. And increasingly, that manner is texting.
5.When used for appointment reminders, text messages have a higher response rate
Since making text confirmations available through our T.LINK EC online communications portal, TeleVox has been tracking the confirmation response rates of several practices who have adopted text messaging. And the numbers speak for themselves. Practices that have started using text confirmation reminders over the last couple of months have seen a dramatic increase in response. The average response rate is an astounding 48% when the patient is allowed to confirm (either yes or no) via text as compared to just email and phone. Some practices are even seeing as high as a 61% response rate with text messages.
While we’d never suggest that text messaging should be the ONLY way you communicate with your patients when they’re not in your office, these success rates do suggest that it’s a viable element to add to your patient communication mix.
What’s the takeaway? It’s important to make communicating with your practice as easy and convenient as possible for patients. And when it comes to getting the results you want from an appointment confirmation strategy, there are two important points. First, it’s imperative that you reach patients with your message. Second, it’s critical that you obtain a confirmation of their intent to attend the appointment so that you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Customize your appointment reminder strategy with the right mix of messages, channels and timing to get the best results. Why not try adding texting to the mix and see what happens?
Originally published in The Progressive Orthodontist, Q2 2011