Patients are busy. Practices are busy. This makes patient communication tricky at best. Conventional communication channels like phone calls don’t provide the most efficient way to connect amidst today’s hectic schedules. (How many voicemails does your practice leave patients?)
To meet patients where they are, and are most likely to respond, healthcare practices have been implementing options such as text messaging and outbound email campaigns. But what about instances when patients do prefer a phone call? How do you balance patient preferences with practice needs and resources?
While this may sound complicated, it isn’t. The key is offering a variety of tools and channels that invite patients to reach out to your practice on their terms. By prioritizing patient convenience with a multitude of communication options — and responding within a reasonable amount of time — your healthcare practice can keep patients satisfied today and coming back for return visits.
Four simple ways healthcare practices can stay connected with patients
For busy healthcare practices, responding to a variety of incoming patient phone calls — questions, scheduling needs, other requests — can be overwhelming. Adding pressure is the high expectations and standards patients have related to response times, especially with the immediacy and ease of today’s communication options. Nearly one-quarter of patients who left a provider in the past two years did so due to slow or no response to questions.
In just about every facet of life, people rely on technology to enhance their communication with businesses, colleagues, friends, and family. More traditional options have been swiftly replaced by text messaging, direct message tools like Slack, messenger apps, and even website chatbots.
Healthcare practices have to capitalize on this groundswell of digital connection and outreach. Those that offer patients a variety of ways to interact with their practice (before, during and after office hours) are delivering to customer expectations, and are more likely to keep patients coming back.
Here are four ways practices can expand their connection to patients and offer communication preferences that meet their customers where they already are.
1. Offer online scheduling to patients.
For simple transactions, giving patients a self-service option is critical. By putting a particular activity in their hands, they can get what they need without delay.
With online scheduling as an option, your patients can book or request an appointment when it’s convenient for them, without having to call your front desk or scheduler during business hours, or play phone tag. According to the PatientPop 3rd annual patient perspective survey, 63 percent of patients prefer digital options to request or book an appointment. Moving to digital scheduling also removes administrative burden from your busy front office staff, allowing them to focus on in-person visits and important patient requests.
2. Use text messaging to meet demand.
The popularity of text messaging has skyrocketed over the past several years and forward-thinking businesses have added it to their communications toolbox. The patient perspective survey indicates that 66 percent of patients prefer text message appointment reminders; nearly 60 percent want the practice to send a text message when it’s time to schedule their next appointment.
Even for personal interactions with a practice, patients prefer text messages as often as other communication choices. When asking the practice a question, more than one in four patients prefer the immediacy and accessibility of a text message when getting their answer.
If your practice call volumes are high, consider expanding your text messaging options by implementing web-to-text and call-to-text, making it even easier for patients to connect with your practice as they prefer.
3. Answer the phone for patients that prefer calling.
Even with all of today’s modern tools, sometimes picking up the phone is a patient’s preferred method of communication. When a patient needs something they feel is important, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as getting no response or playing a full day’s game of phone tag. Having a dedicated person to answer the phone and respond to voicemails is important.
The phone is often preferred by older patients or those with sensitive or time-sensitive questions. While patients’ reliance on the phone has decreased over the years, PatientPop research indicates that more than 20 percent of patients prefer it when they need answers to questions or feedback.
4. Use email to inspire patient loyalty.
Sending out mail campaigns is a great way to stay connected with patients in between visits. While it’s not recommended for back-and-forth communication between a provider and a patient due to HIPAA guidelines (opt for your patient portal in these instances), email gives your practice the opportunity to share practice updates (e.g. new hires, operational changes, new services), and valuable health information. Even semi-regular communication via email campaigns can keep your practice top of mind throughout the year. Email is an effective tool for long-term growth: It keeps your patients informed and engaged, driving patient loyalty and retention.
Follow communications best practices with patients: Be prompt and set clear guidelines
Regardless of the communication tools your practice offers, it’s important to develop internal policies to guide your response times, and then communicate those policies to your patients.
For example, your policy may be to return all voicemails within two to three hours, but that email or patient portal response times may take up to eight hours. Establish clear guidelines, track your performance, and be sure to set expectations clearly with your patients. Doing so will help enhance the patient experience, which can have a clear impact on your practice’s online reputation.
Patient survey: Tracking patient behavior, preferences, and habits in healthcare in 2021
Best practices when using text messages for patient care reminders