Is your allergy practice still using phone calls for appointment reminders to advise patients of schedule changes, to discuss insurance verification and payment and to provide pre-appointment instructions? Practices that use phone calls as their primary method of communicating with patients are finding them less and less effective, as many Americans now prefer to send and receive texts rather than phone calls.
And leaving a voicemail for patients isn’t reliable either. A recent survey by eVoice, a provider of virtual phone services, found that only 33 percent listen to voice mail from business contacts and only 18 percent listen to voice mails from numbers they don't know. Clearly, allergy practices need to find other ways to communicate with patients!
Using patient portals is one good alternative. However, it’s worth considering HIPAA-compliant texting as an option in certain situations, given that 97% of smartphone users text regularly. Here are five creative ways Practice Management Committee members are using – or are preparing to use – texting in their practices.
- Get patients to call the office.
Jean Owen, MBA, Practice Administrator for Allergy & Asthma Specialists in Owensboro, KY, says, “We text patients whenever we need to reach them and they don’t answer the phone. Our text says ‘We are trying to contact you. Please call the office at xxx-xxx-xxxx as soon as possible’ and usually they call back immediately. We’ve found patients won’t answer their phone, but they will respond to a text.”
- Confirm appointments / provide allergy shot reminders.
All seven of the Practice Management Committee members polled use texting to remind patients of appointments or when allergy shots are due. One practice uses texting to advise patients when allergy extract is available.
We recommend giving patients options for how they receive appointment reminders (text, email, phone, etc.) It’s best to get their written consent to receive texts before using them for appointment reminders.
- Provide education and instructions.
Two of the seven Practice Management Committee members polled use texting to provide instructions to patients. Jennifer Kuehn, CPC, Revenue and Coding Manager for Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Associates in Omaha, NE, notes they routinely text patients with pre-service instructions, such as when to stop antihistamines. Razi Rafeeq, MD, FACAAI, who practices in Toledo, OH, provides comprehensive instructions for new patients via text, including reminders to stop antihistamines and requests to bring copays, insurance cards, photo IDs, etc. His practice also uses texting to advise patients of flu shot availability.
- Improve payment-related communication.
Some texting systems allow practices to notify patients of balances due and e-statement availability. Two Practice Management Committee members are looking into new systems with that capability. Ideally, the practice could include a link in the text to their online bill pay website, if one is available.
- Provide updates about schedule changes.
Three Practice Management Committee members use texting to update patients about schedule changes, including changes to shot room hours, provider cancellations and changes due to weather emergencies. Texting is a great way to share these types of critical information, and with a texting system, it’s easy to quickly communicate with a large group of patients.
Before implementing a texting program, check to make sure it’s HIPAA-compliant. Ms. Owen also recommends having patients sign a release stating they give the practice permission to use texting to contact them.
Patient portals are terrific for providing detailed patient education, for communication between providers and patients, and for providing test results. However, consider texting when speed is of the essence and you simply need to relay information to patients. You’ll increase your chances of reaching your patients, which will in turn increase patient satisfaction.