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How-to guide: text messaging for doctors and healthcare practices

As the no. 1 communication preference for patients, text messaging can drive patient engagement and loyalty. Here's how to get started with text messaging at your practice.

A patient is confirming her appointment via text message

According to the Pew Research Center, today’s consumers are ignoring more phone calls than they’re accepting, which leaves many organizations struggling to stay connected with their customers. The emergence of text messaging for businesses is no surprise. 

For healthcare practices, text messaging offers a competitive advantage. It gives patients an additional, more convenient way to stay connected with your office. In fact, 63 percent of people say they would switch to a company that offers text messaging as a communication option.

Yet, using text messaging in healthcare isn’t as simple as texting your friends and family. To optimize patient satisfaction and keep your office workflow humming along, it’s best to follow some best practices. 

Best practices for using text messaging in your medical or dental office

Step 1: Know the rules.

Using text messaging to reach out to your patients could be subject to varying regulations. It’s always a good idea to get explicit consent for texting your patients. However, when a patient provides you with their phone number via appointment scheduling or intake forms for example, this is considered sufficient consent to start texting with them to answer questions or send appointment reminders. 

Patients may opt out of receiving further text messages from practices at any time. With PatientPop, automated texts include a keyword for opting out, enabling patients to unsubscribe with a single-word reply.

Because text messages are not encrypted, it is best not to include protected health information (PHI) via text. However, if you warn your patients of the risks of communicating PHI over an unencrypted channel, and your patient has consented to receiving such texts, then text messaging can comply with HIPAA. 

If you intend to use text messaging to send marketing messages for promoting new services or deliver special offers, then you do need to acquire written consent. 

Without it, you’ll risk facing hefty fines for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). PatientPop recommends checking in with legal counsel for clarification on these changing guidelines. 

Step 2: Choose the right text messaging platform.

There are many applications that can help businesses send text messages to their customers, but choosing the wrong platform can create more headaches for patients and staff alike. To avoid breaching patient privacy, select a HIPAA-compliant tool. Next, select a solution that streamlines and keeps track of your text messages. That makes it far easier for staff to respond to patients, and reduces the risk of losing messages. 

Look for text messaging solutions that can incorporate newer functionality for patients, such as the option to communicate via text from your website or a phone call. This expands the access to your practice for both current and prospective patients — increasing the opportunity to book more appointments. 

Step 3: Make a plan for your practice.

While you can use text messaging for a myriad of purposes, it’s important to define how your practice will incorporate texting into your communications strategy. Choose the specific uses thoughtfully to avoid overwhelming your patients with messages. 

Some popular uses include scheduling appointments, communicating with the healthcare provider or care team, sending automated appointment reminders, and notifying patients of their bill. If you’re concerned about message volume, start small and build your teams’ confidence and workflows. Then, you can expand from there.

Step 4: Ask patients for permission. 

Aside from regulatory requirements, it’s just a good idea to ask your patients if it’s OK to text them. Some may see unsolicited texting as a violation of their privacy, so getting permission is a best practice regardless of what rules dictate. Be up-front and clear with patients regarding how you plan to use text messaging and be sure to highlight the benefits for them (i.e., saving time, eliminating phone tag, and delivering helpful reminders). 

Step 5: Establish a process to handle incoming messages.

Evaluate the various message types you expect to receive, e.g., appointment requests, questions for providers, or billing inquiries. Then, designate a point person to respond to each, and a workflow for managing the office inbox to ensure every message gets a response. 

Equally important is the expectation you set with patients who are waiting for those responses. Establish response goals within your practice, and then share them with patients as part of your initial (sometimes automated) response. An example: “We’ve received your appointment request and will get back to you by the next business day.” Track your performance over time, and aim for continuous improvement if response times start to increase. 

Step 6: Be prepared.

Before you ”go live” with a full text messaging strategy, brainstorm the most common questions and messages you expect to receive. Then, develop standard responses you can use as texts come in. Just be sure to personalize your messages, so they don’t feel too impersonal. Also, be prepared to refine your process as time goes on and you adjust to your new workflow. As with any new technology, change isn’t always easy but can certainly deliver benefits over time. 

Text messaging delivers patient convenience and can boost practice appointment volume

Healthcare practices that implement text messaging effectively can meet patients’ demand for access convenience, while driving loyalty and supporting practice growth. According to the PatientPop 2021 patient perspective survey report, two out of three patients prefer text messaging for appointment reminders, and 59 percent want a text message reminding them to book their next appointment. 

Staying connected with patients using secure text messaging can drive appointment volume and satisfy patients — delivering a win-win for patients and practices alike. 

What should you do next?

1. Schedule a free PatientPop demo.
2. Measure your website performance and web presence using our free scanner.
3. Watch our learning session on “Text messaging: Driving patient engagement and practice success.”

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PatientPop is the leader in practice growth with the only all-in-one solution that empowers healthcare providers to improve every digital touchpoint of the patient journey. As experts in the healthcare technology space, PatientPop makes it easy for providers to thrive in the consumerization of healthcare and promote their practice online, attract patients, and retain them for life.

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