In recent years, more hospitals and healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies and medical clinics, have been taking advantage of text messaging capabilities to help patients keep on top of their health with digital health monitoring solutions and help health administrators integrate SMS into workforce management systems.

Text messaging, also known as SMS or short message service, is one of the most widely used methods of communication to date, with instant delivery and extensive coverage worldwide. It nicely lends itself to healthcare as it’s a low-cost way of contacting thousands of people, while also allowing for personalized messaging.

The Development of Texting in Healthcare

It’s no wonder hospitals and healthcare have gravitated towards SMS text messaging, due to its timely, near-instant communication abilities. Before SMS solutions were utilized, healthcare providers used to communicate with patients and staff using page services, postal services, or a phone call. Now, text messaging in the health industry is revolutionizing healthcare operations by supplying a quick, easy-to-use service that reaches targeted audiences effectively, whether that’s patients or staff. 

As using SMS in healthcare grew in development, there were a few factors that had to be assessed. Some vital questions that needed to be asked before implementing SMS text messaging included:

  1. How do patients respond to texts regarding healthcare processes?
  2. In which healthcare areas can SMS prove to be an effective communication tool?
  3. How can text messaging be optimized in these areas?

The first question presents an essential consideration as communication will not improve if users don’t respond to this method of communication. In the earlier days of SMS implementation, a survey conducted by OfCom looked into how patients aged 25 to 54 felt about text messaging in healthcare. Results showed that 55%, more than half of respondents, actively preferred to be contacted via SMS regarding their appointment information.

Additionally, with the aging population, it was also important to consider if text messaging proved convenient for older demographics. A study by Hughes and Done found that older groups did not particularly object to SMS more than any other age group and 44% of participants were willing to receive information via text message. In recent years, the number of older folks with a mobile phone has climbed significantly with 85% of adults aged 50+ owning a smart device, per AARP — making text messaging more accessible than ever before.

In terms of healthcare areas where text messaging can be an effective communication tool, healthcare organizations quickly noted the efficiency of SMS appointment reminders. DNA (Did Not Attend) rates are one of the main sources of disturbance in healthcare appointments with ‘forgetting’ being the primary cause, per Healthcare Communications. This was shortly identified as an area for improvement and text message solutions became the way forward, providing necessary appointment details and enhancing patient communication.

Taking text messaging a step further, automated SMS services removed the need for sending texts to patients one-by-one — a very long-winded, manual task. Instead, A2P capabilities enabled intelligent systems to read all scheduled appointments and apply relevant information to the assigned reminder template. This generated SMS is then sent to the patient’s phone number within a selected timeframe — for example, 48 hours before the booking — ultimately streamlining the process and eliminating the possibility of human error.

During the pandemic hospital administrators adopted text messaging on mass into their workforce management systems to ramp and respond to critical shift attendance in all areas including; doctors, nurses, janitorial and even administration itself. SMS has become the prime channel of communication in countless hospital workforce management, surpassing phone, related IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and email. 

Text Messaging in Healthcare Settings

As a way to improve healthcare processes, text now plays a key role as part of the mobile health strategy. The use of SMS messaging methods can help patients take better care of themselves by offering friendly reminders and providing helpful updates.

Here are some use cases for text messaging in healthcare:

1. Staffing and Shift Management
With the ability to contact healthcare associates quickly in an effective and direct way, staff availability can easily be communicated. Shifts can be altered, covered and arranged in real-time through text message services.

2. Appointment Reminders
A simple appointment reminder can prevent the likelihood of DNAs by notifying patients of their bookings and providing them with the necessary details, such as assigned doctor and appointment location.

3. Position Notifications
Text messages can notify patients of their position in a queue for their healthcare facility and improve the patient experience. These notifications keep them consistently informed in a way that doesn’t take up their time — unlike being put on hold on a phone call.

4. Medication Pick-Up Reminders
When a patient is towards the end of their current prescription, a pick-up reminder text message is sent, letting the person know that they should pick up their next set of medications soon to ensure consistent dosage and enhance patient satisfaction.

5. Two-Factor Authentication for Staff Security
Security is a critical component of healthcare. That’s why two-factor authentication (2FA) methods can provide an additional layer of protection. To verify the user’s identity, they must input the one-time password (OTP) they receive via text into the staff portal.

These methods benefit the healthcare industry by promoting best practices for patients and streamlining various healthcare processes, including medication collection and punctuality attended appointments. Since texts can be sent and received from almost anywhere, this method offers advantages in speed, efficiency and convenience.

Risks of Using SMS Services for Healthcare

Despite the endless possibilities with text messaging in healthcare, it’s important to consider the dangers involved when sharing sensitive information through virtual means. Here are a few things to take note of when evaluating these risks:

  • Lack of End-to-End Encryption — Without end-to-end encryption on SMS platforms, text messages are in danger of unlawful interception.
  • Information on Lost, Stolen or Unmanaged Devices — Even if messages are deleted, the data still exists somewhere deep within the phone. This can cause issues for those who don’t manage their device efficiently or who have lost/had their phone stolen.
  • Patient Misinterpretation — Sharing information with no option for patient clarification may lead to them misunderstanding the details as this method strongly relies on a patient’s reading and comprehension abilities.
  • Incorrectly Provided Details — If patient information is not verified, sensitive information could be sent to the wrong phone number.
  • Healthcare Scammers — People may pose as a healthcare organization, putting vulnerable patients at risk of falling victim to cyberthreats.

When sending texts in the context of healthcare, make sure to spread awareness of cyberthreats and establish what to look for in texts from a real health facility to prevent the likelihood of a successful attack. Also, it may be beneficial to provide human support options for patients, such as a helpline, and ensure details are verified before transferring sensitive content. 

In terms of managing end-to-end encryption, healthcare providers must abide by the HIPAA federal law to ensure secure texting practices and protect patient health information from unauthorized disclosure.

HIPAA Guidelines

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA regulations require the implementation of safeguards to guarantee confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information (ePHI). This means, for secure messaging, access needs to be authorized and data must be encrypted both at rest and in transit.

As SMS is a public switch telecommunications protocol, it is not encrypted over mobile carriers. To comply, SMS Gateway providers must offer an encrypted connection between healthcare operators and their facilities, and healthcare operators must not place sensitive information in text messaging. This means the client content is limited to such information as pickup times, calendar alerts of appointments, and workforce shift scheduling. 

Developing a Successful Healthcare Text Strategy

Working with an SMS provider that understands the constraints of HIPAA regulations is your first step in developing a successful healthcare text strategy.

Take a look at our SMS solutions for healthcare to learn more about how Swift SMS Gateway and our channel partners in healthcare have helped healthcare operators improve their communications, ensuring smooth operations in patient attendance, prescription pickup times, and workforce shift scheduling automation.

Contact us to get started on your SMS journey or set up a free demo with us and try out our text messaging services!