How SMS Can Support Patient Engagement in 2019

Digital patient portal technology has been around since the turn of the millennium, but many physicians' offices and hospitals are still facing barriers to optimized patient experiences. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 9 out of 10 office-based physicians had an electronic health record system by 2017. The Canadian Medical Association reported similar levels of adoption in the same year.

If the majority of care providers have digital solutions for record keeping and patient communication, what's preventing them from optimizing engagement rates?

Digital Isn't the End of the Road

Having digital health solutions isn't the end-all, be-all of patient engagement. Many physicians' offices have very basic EHR systems with limited functionality and few data integrations. For example, a 2016 report from MedScape revealed that most providers saw their clinical workflows slow down after EHR implementation, with 48% of patients being affected by these problems.

In 2019, EHR developers have had time to iron out some of these initial kinks, but there's still room for improvement. For example, many EHR systems track patient data effectively, but lack communication tools to achieve optimal engagement levels.

In an interview with Patient Engagement HIT, Dr. Fareed Elhaj noted that phone systems often cause a bottleneck in patient communication.

"Phone calls were not very efficient because a lot of patients don't pick up the phone and then we leave a message," Dr. Elhaj said. "But how much information can we really leave on that message? So then patients call back and then they can't reach us or they leave a voicemail. It's a lot of back and forth."

SMS enabled EHR systems can save valuable internal resources.SMS enabled EHR systems can save valuable internal resources.

A Better Way to Communicate

Text messages solve two problems at once: internal resource utilization and patient engagement. For one thing, SMS saves internal resources by cutting out the back-and-forth phone calls that often answer redundant questions that would otherwise be covered during the actual visit. Furthermore, text messages are quick and allow patients to confirm or cancel appointments as needed.

When Dr. Elhaj's team implemented text messages as part of its EHR strategy, the benefits were felt almost immediately.

"There was no back and forth in terms of if we wanted a confirmation text sent out," Dr. Elhaj noted. "Essentially, if the patient is on our schedule, she gets a confirmation text message. It's virtually no work for us."

Not every patient-physician exchange can happen over text message, but by using the channel for appointment reminders and quick informational notes, staff members can reserve their resources for more in-depth conversations. Plus, patients won't have to wait on hold for long periods, which everyone can appreciate.

Building SMS functionality into your EHR system is easy when you choose a partner who understands text messages inside and out. Schedule a free demo of Swift SMS Gateway today to learn more.