The past year’s pandemic struck a painful blow to health organizations’ pre-COVID patient engagement efforts. A recent report detailed fewer patient visits amidst coronavirus fears and stay-at-home orders. People are simply not going into clinics to address non-COVID medical needs. The result is more serious health issues developing, such as cancers being found at later stages and chronic conditions advancing beyond easy treatment options.
As patient engagement strategies ramp up, mobile communication channels are becoming more attractive for reaching those living in geographically isolated areas, far from their medical providers. While video visits have replaced many non-urgent in-person visits, those in rural areas struggle to use even telemedicine options due to lack of access or unreliable broadband connectivity. The travel is too far and the technology is not part of their daily lives making healthcare completely out of reach.
Because most Americans (96%) own a cell phone, mobile is an ideal way to communicate and elicit collaboration for health. Healthcare systems that leverage mobile channels are finding this platform a powerful way to serve patients. Text (SMS) is an ideal channel for reaching underserved communities, as one does not need a smartphone or broadband to send or receive SMS messages.
When patients are actively engaging with their healthcare providers, positive outcomes include better compliance with medications, post-procedure care adherence, better general health and lower costs. Regular messages from healthcare providers remind patients to maintain at-home and preventative care, and can have a dramatic impact on overall patient health.
SMS is an especially effective communication vehicle for healthcare messages because they impart a sense of urgency and credibility. In order for individuals to receive this form of communication they need to opt-in, which makes it a trusted channel. The more engaged the patients are, the more likely they are to actually take preventative care measures, exercise, and eat better.
For healthcare providers, mobile channels also offer improved physician satisfaction and organizational efficiency. Time previously spent on phone calls or in-person visits is replaced with automated outreach.
The spread of the pandemic made fast and easy sharing of vital medical information especially important. Presently, as vaccine availability increases, mobile messaging will help providers reach large populations with timely vaccination updates. Reports of high vaccine waste have been reported due to cancellations and individuals not showing up to vaccination appointments. This could be avoided if populations were notified in real-time about supply levels, appointments, and side effects. As healthcare professionals begin to get COVID-19 under control, the need to track symptoms and contract-tracing can also be accomplished through mobile devices.
SMS also provides a quick and easy way for patients to send information back to their doctors about side effects related to the vaccines. Moving beyond one-way communication with SMS gives patients a way to ask questions or relay information on their current health status.
Technology providers like access.mobile, working with Emory Collaborative Community Outreach and Health Disparities Group in Atlanta, Georgia, have helped to reach metro Atlanta populations through SMS. They have provided critical COVID-19 information about prevention strategies, online symptom checking, mobile testing sites, contact tracing, and community-based or telehealth services this winter. The patient-centered mobile engagement initiative has also lowered costs for the healthcare provider by decreasing the time spent tracking and phoning people for appointments.
To take things beyond basic SMS, healthcare providers can consider fleshing out a full mobile communications strategy to deliver tailored analytics. With real-time data and services, staff work-flow can be improved and resources can be allocated more efficiently, also lowering costs. It’s the next step up from SMS but patients with chronic conditions who have mobile access to medical portals showed improved self-management and an increase in regular contact with their care team.
That said, meeting patients on familiar, and readily available, platforms increases the likelihood of adoption and use. Starting with SMS is the way to connect and generate initial engagement. An effective mobile solution should also be scalable so it can cover the most patients possible with the same system.
Healthcare organizations are struggling to manage coronavirus vaccinations, along with attending to all the backed-up chronic and preventative care needs from patients not visiting their doctors during the pandemic.
It’s time for healthcare organizations to make bigger investments in mobile patient engagement. Custom messaging solutions that leverage mobile channels and SMS can be powerful tools for public health. Something as simple as a text message can produce long-term community health benefits, especially for marginalized populations who lack access to medical facilities or the internet.
About Jeanae DuBois
Jeanae DuBois is an accomplished marketing and branding leader with 20+ years in the industry. Jeanae oversees global marketing strategy and a 30+ member integrated marketing team at Bitwise Industries that executes on inbound and outbound marketing, campaign execution, branding, client development, public relations, corporate and community events and internal sales enablement.