How Doctors Can Use SMS to Remind Patients of Appointments
How to use Text message appointment reminders! If you’ve ever worked in a job that runs on appointments, as virtually everything does in the medical field, you know what a pain it can be for patients to no-show. No shows waste time in the office, they can throw off a schedule, and doctors could have filled that slot with another patient who might need to be seen more urgently.
Fortunately, we live in a time when doctors can utilize technology to cut down on no-show appointments. These days, especially with younger patients, trying to confirm appointments by phone can be less effective than in days past.
Many people screen calls, silence calls much of the time, and many forget to clean out their voicemail box, which can end up full—preventing your office from leaving a reminder message.
But the solution is simple: SMS notifications.
What Is SMS?
If you are looking for a better way to confirm appointments, SMS shows a lot of promise in being more productive at reminding patients of their visit than calling. SMS stands for short message service. This technology often shows up in the form of automated text messages.
If a patient does not have texting services on their phone, SMS can utilize text-to-voice with an intermediary service, which can send an automated voice message to landlines.
The Benefits of SMS to Remind Patients of Appointments
As with everything in the medical field, you must practice caution about the information in any form of communication. As long as your office utilizes safe, discrete SMS messages, you can reap a lot of benefits.
More time for staff to work on other tasks
When you eliminate the need to confirm appointments with old fashioned phone calls done by front desk staff, they can spend more time on other work. Depending on your practice, manually confirming appointments can take up much of the morning. With automated SMS messages, employees can spend more time on essential duties.
Reaching more patients
Some of your patients, especially those in the younger demographic, let phone calls go to voicemail more and more often.
If a patient hasn’t saved your number as a contact in their phone, they are even more likely to decline the call, or their phone may silence your number completely (such as with iPhone’s “silence unknown callers” feature).
If a voice mailbox is full, you missed your opportunity to confirm that appointment. When you use SMS to send both text and automated text-to-voice reminders, you can contact more patients.
Another benefit is that many people will check texts more frequently or quickly than voicemail. When your patients see reminders faster, they can confirm or cancel in a timelier fashion.
Your patients may be more likely to see the text as opposed to voicemails that could sit for days without being listened to. One survey showed that only 33 percent of people would listen to a voicemail from a business, and even less bother with them if it’s a number they don’t know.
With many SMS setups, you can allow patients to confirm their appointment with a response text immediately. You can also opt to allow them to cancel or direct them to call the office if they need to cancel and reschedule their appointment.
How Doctors Can Use text message for Appointment Reminders
So, maybe this sounds excellent, but you’re still using old fashioned phone calls. How can you use SMS to remind more patients of appointments? You need to follow a few guidelines and then pick the best messaging software for your office.
When using SMS, be sure to follow some privacy and documentation practices to protect yourself.
Document Patient Consent
Before you begin confirming with any patient, first obtain consent from them to receive SMS messages and keep it documented. You can do this when they fill out forms at registration, with an initial text message asking for their permission, or through a patient portal.
Establish a Messaging Policy
Set up a system declaring who is authorized to send the SMS messages to patients, what information texts can and cannot include, and whether any other forms of messages can or will get sent out other than appointment confirmations.
It is also a smart idea to establish checks to verify that it is the patient’s number, and protocol for caregivers of patients who need assistance with messaging.
Keep Records of Messages in a Patient’s File
Most healthcare professionals know the importance of quality record keeping, and SMS messages should be part of that file.
You will want to have documentation of confirmed or canceled appointments, as well as proof that SMS messages were sent (even if something went wrong on the patient’s end, and the SMS did not make it through).
Limit Information in Messages
When using SMS to remind patients of appointments, don’t forget HIPAA regulations. Include the date and time. Typically, the name of the practice will be part of the message, so the patient knows the sender. Other than a prompt to consent to messages or confirm or cancel the appointment, no additional medical information generally needs to be in the SMS.
Sample SMS Messages Doctors Can Use to Remind Patients
There is no need to send lengthy messages to remind your patients of their appointments. Keeping the tone friendly and the information to the point is typically best. Some examples of text message appointment reminders include:
- Hello Jane! This is a reminder that you have an appointment with Dr. Smith’s office on Friday, May 7, 2021, at 1:00 pm. Type “Y” to confirm. If you need to cancel, please call our office at 555-444-5555
- This message is to confirm that John has an appointment at Shoreline Physicians on Monday, August 24, 2020, at 10:30 am. Type “YES” to confirm or “NO” to cancel. Please bring your insurance card and ID and arrive 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork. Call us at 555-444-5555 with any questions.
- Reminder: you have an appointment at 11:00 am on 6/1/2021 with Dr. Smith. If you need to cancel or reschedule, please call our office at 555-444-5555
- This is a message from the Shoreline Medical Group with a reminder of your appointment this Thursday at 3:00 pm. To confirm, please reply “1” to this message. To cancel, please reply “2” and call our office at 555-444-5555 to reschedule at your earliest convenience.
The point is to get the date, time, and the name of the doctor or office in the message. It’s up to your practice whether automated confirmations in response work best, or if you’d prefer a simple reminder for patients.
How you prefer to format dates, greetings, confirmation requests, and the overall tone is up to you and the brand of your practice.
With SMS message marketing, you can reach far more patients and receive faster confirmations. However, you must remember that cell phones could be sitting around anywhere, and another person could stumble upon the message.
Be sensitive about the wording of text message appointment reminders, and never include information that breaches HIPAA regulations. We think it’s best to incorporate the office phone number in the SMS message, too—just in case these modern, tech-savvy patients decide to call with a question the old fashioned way.