The adoption of patient messaging in private healthcare is no longer a matter of if, but when and it’s only logical that SMS and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and WeChat will soon be adopted at scale by the private healthcare sector during next few years.
With an expected additional 1.1 billion new users set to adopt messaging by the end of 2018, for a total of 3.6 billion users, it’s clear that messaging really will become the new social media in web 3.0.
But the change requires hospital management, clinic owners and private practitioners to embrace messaging, and many have shown a reluctance to do so. How can I manage all these channels? Who will respond to patient inquiries? How can we maintain control of our brand image?
Often at the core of such concerns is a misconception of what messaging is and how it fits into typical medical service providers. To dispel these myths, here are seven important truths about patient messaging.
1. The Shift to Digital Communications Is a Natural Evolution
Private healthcare has come a long way technologically in the past decade, and these advances have had a big impact on the patient experience. From the speed and efficiency of booking appointments to the ease of sharing feedback on social media, patients and clinic owners alike have had to adjust to an increasingly connected world.
Nowhere is this more evident than the ways in which we exchange information. Email, text messaging, social media – the speed and volume of communications have grown exponentially. Now, with messaging apps outstripping other forms of communication in popularity, clinics cannot afford to ignore this shift any longer.
2. Patients Want to Be Able to Message clinics
The slow adoption of messaging in private healthcare isn’t due to lack of desire on the part of consumers. In daily life, people use messaging to communicate with friends and family, and increasingly they expect the same convenience from businesses.
2/3 self-pay patients in the US and the UK said they would find communicating via messaging with a doctor useful. Patients don’t want to wait on hold, in a line or for an email response. It’s much easier to message the clinic. Moreover, at a time when data privacy is a top concern, some dedicated healthcare messaging apps can provide an extra private, secure environment.
3. Messaging Doesn’t Create More Work, It Saves Time
Team members in clinics are often overworked, and they certainly don’t need additional responsibilities. And yet part of the workload issue stems from dependency on the telephone, email, and face-to-face interactions that could be more efficiently handled with digital technology like chatbots and virtual assistants.
In an age when people always have their mobile phones with them, the in-room telephone handset seems like a relic of the past. Messaging is a much quicker, efficient and convenient means of communication for patients and for staff.
Chatbots ensure that patients receive an instant response even when staff are tied up. Saved templates allow staff to send quick answers to common questions like hours of operation, directions and menu queries, ensuring that the information is always thorough, accurate and consistent.
4. Messaging Doesn’t Harm Service, It Elevates It
With patient facilitators now sending after treatment surveys to patients, messaging allows clinics to create direct connections with patients and take greater control over the patient experience.
Patients can easily send requests to the medical team and alert them of any issues at any time of day, in our out of the clinic, post, during, or pretreatment. This kind of close communication provides opportunities to provide remarkable service.
5. Messaging Is a Unique Way to Communicate
Messaging is different from the telephone, email and face-to-face communications, and messaging with patients is different from messaging with family or friends. To ensure that communications are clear, professional and effective, clinics must provide staff with training and guidelines.
While the implementation of messaging technology is relatively simple, putting into place systems and processes for receiving and following up on messages is more complex. Successful setup requires defining procedures, responsibilities, workflows and work groups.
6. Messaging is More than SMS
For clinics, messaging can come in many forms: SMS/text messaging, apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Twitter. We have also seen the proliferation of website chat widgets that greet website visitors and offer assistance.
7. Messaging Is a Critical Piece of a Bigger Puzzle
Rather than view messaging as just another service channel to operate, clinics should regard it as part of an integrated system of tools and processes for optimizing the patient experience. From a technology perspective, this requires integration with operations software.
For example, if a patient messages, “I’m bleeding still – should I be worried?”, the request can be directed to the correct department, with notifications and escalation parameters set to automatically track timely follow-up of the patient. When messaging is paired with treatment outcome software that alerts, flags, tracks and measures performance, improvements to overall the patient experience are assured.
The importance of messaging to the private healthcare is undeniable. The question is, when will your clinic embrace it?