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Texting 101

Doctor texting: Pros, cons, best practices, and examples to get you started

Alia Paavola
9
minute read
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Many businesses, including healthcare practices, are turning to text messaging as a way to communicate with customers. That’s because it has many benefits. 

In fact, 89 percent of customers say they prefer texting with businesses. Plus, 63 percent of Americans say they would switch to a company that offers texting as a communication channel. 

A graphic showing two texting statistics
Statistics that show why to consider texting as a communication channel.

For doctors, texting offers a competitive advantage. It can help them stay connected with patients, cut no-shows, and ensure patients get essential care.

But, doctor texting is a bit more nuanced than texting friends or family. That's because healthcare is governed by rules to keep protected health information secure. And texting is regulated as well. As a result, it’s essential to keep in mind several texting best practices before hitting send.

Below, we break down the pros and cons of doctor texting. We also share 10 best practices and 16 examples of how physicians can use texting in their own practices.

Doctor texting pros and cons

Let’s take a look at some of the texting pros and cons for medical professionals. Business texting allows physicians and their offices to reach out to patients or employees in a convenient and personal way. But, there are some cons to weigh as well.

Pros

  • Texting is the ultimate convenience tool as patients can text wherever and whenever
  • Texting has a high open rate of 98 percent
  • Texting has a 45 percent response rate
  • Texting is immediate; the average text is read within three minutes
  • Texting is more scalable than phone calls as they don’t take up as much time
  • Texting is a communication method that customers prefer
  • Texting allows for personal two-way conversations
  • Texting is secure when done right

Cons

  • There are HIPAA security breach risks if texting is not done right
  • Texting is another communication channel you’d need to manage in addition to email and phone
  • Getting opt-ins to text patients is a must, but can be tricky
  • Texting is limited to 160-characters so you must be concise
  • You need to let customers know they can text you
  • It can be difficult to convey the tone
  • It can seem intrusive when done improperly 

Doctor texting best practices

There are several best practices to keep in mind when it comes to doctor texting. These best practices will help you stay compliant with the laws that govern healthcare and texting and make sure you see a great return on your texting investment.

1. Know the rules

As previously mentioned, there are laws that govern both healthcare and texting. Before you start texting patients, make sure you understand them. 

Some laws to keep in mind are the HIPAA Privacy Rule, Security Rule, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

HIPAA is the overarching federal law that protects individuals' PHI from being improperly disclosed or accessed by an unauthorized party without their consent or knowledge. The HIPAA Privacy Rule sets limits on how PHI can be shared or accessed without a patient’s consent. Meanwhile, the HIPAA Security Rule establishes safeguards so that only those meant to have access to this information can access it. 

Texting is HIPAA compliant when it is done correctly and complies with both the security and privacy rules. This means you obtained consent and you’re texting on a secure platform that encrypts data. It’s important to note that basic texting on personal mobile devices is not encrypted so texting PHI from your personal device is not HIPAA-compliant.

If you warn your patients of the risks of communicating PHI, use an encrypted platform, train staff properly and get consent from patients to text them, you will comply with HIPAA.

Another rule to note is the TCPA. While it outlines several protections, one to note is that you must get the consent of the person you’re texting. Opt-ins can be obtained by asking customers to text you first, sending an opt-in message, asking customers to fill out a form, and more. 

In addition to obtaining an opt-in, you must also make sure your patients can opt-out of receiving messages at any time. This means ensuring customers can reply to the message with words such as STOP and END.

Additionally, companies that want to text with their customers must register for The Campaign Registry. Mobile network operators like Verizon and T-Mobile made the registry to decrease the number of SPAM messages sent from 10-digit long code numbers. The Campaign Registry is used by the carriers to ensure that your phone number used to text and the messages being sent from it are legitimate.

Businesses using 10DLC to text their customers must sign up for the registry. If you don’t sign up, you could face message deliverability issues, fines, or the risk of being blocked.

Read our blogs on how to ensure you are legally texting your customers and how to use HIPAA-compliant texting to learn more. 

2. Choose a HIPAA-compliant texting platform

Choosing the wrong text messaging platform in healthcare can be detrimental. That’s because a breach of HIPAA can result in fines and reputational damage. As a result, it's important to select a HIPAA-compliant texting tool to avoid breaching patient privacy. 

You want to make sure that the platform you select encrypts messages and data so they can’t be understood if intercepted by a third party. Plus, you’ll want to ensure that you have safeguards in place as to who can access the texting platform.

Another important item healthcare practices must acquire when working with vendors, including texting platforms, is a Business Associate Agreement. The BAA is a written contract that specifies each party’s responsibility in protecting PHI. Make sure the platform you select offers a BAA.

Textline, for example, is a fully HIPAA-compliant secure messaging platform. We encrypt data, make obtaining patient consent easy, and ensure staff is trained to protect patients’ PHI. We also provide you with a BAA and require two-factor authentication to sign onto the platform.

3. Make a plan for how your practice will use text messaging

There are many ways physician offices can use text messaging. This includes using texts to:

  • Schedule appointments
  • Confirm appointments
  • Send appointment reminders
  • Remind patients to pay
  • Ask patients to submit pre-appointment forms
  • Answer patient questions quickly
  • Respond to inbound leads
  • Communicate with their team internally

Regardless of your use case, it’s important to clearly define how you will incorporate it into your communication strategy. Laying out this strategy will help your team understand how to use it and can ensure it fits into your workflow.

One best practice is starting with one use case and slowly expanding to other use cases. For example, you could start with appointment confirmations and later add patient scheduling.

Another best practice is to work as a team and collaborate. You can use your mobile device to respond to patients while on the floor, can transfer conversations to other staff who may not be as busy at the time, and more. 

4. Get permission to text patients

You’ll want to obtain an opt-in prior to sending your first message and be clear about how you plan to use text messaging. 

For example, you’ll want to tell patients if you are going to send appointment reminders, test results, payment reminders, and more. 

If you’re texting anything that’s HIPAA protected, one good best practice is to get a double opt-in. This means confirming a patient’s opt-in choice by sending an opt-in text first and foremost. 

A single opt-in is asking customers for their phone number or having them fill out a contact form. A double-opt-in is confirming the texting choice. 

For example, if a patient submits their number on a lead form that grants them permission to text, you can obtain a double opt-in by sending the following text first:

ProHealth Minnesota complies with HIPAA and would like to exchange text messages with you. Text messages may not be fully secure and have a risk of being read by third parties. To consent to receive texts, reply YES.

5. Let patients know they can text you and that you will respond

Before the texts will roll in, you need to let patients know they can text you. You can do this by letting them know when they visit your practice, sending an email, or making it public by posting your business texting number online and in physical locations.

You’ll want to share your texting number in the places patients look for information, including:

  • Your website
  • Social media profiles
  • Review pages
  • Digital advertisements
  • Printed materials

Additionally, another best practice is to let customers know that you will reply. Many customers are used to one-way notifications from brands and aren’t aware they can text back. You could include in your message to a customer that you will reply. 

Here’s an example of how you could let patients know you will reply. 

A text example to a patient.
A text example to a patient.

6. Get a plan in place to handle responses

Text messages have a 45 percent response rate. This means that your patients will inevitably respond to your SMS messages. As a result, it’s key to get a plan in place to handle these responses. 

For example, you should answer questions like:

  • Who will be responsible for responding?
  • How quickly will you respond to patients?
  • Will you set up auto-responders?
  • How will you handle more complex questions that come in?

When it comes to handling replies, make sure to work as a team. You should know who will respond to what, how quickly to respond, and who can handle more complex questions. 

Since texting is built and known for its rapid back-and-forth communication, it’s a good practice to respond as quickly as possible. One way to help speed up text communication is by creating templates that answer common questions or messages you expect to receive. 

For example, if you are sending appointment confirmation texts and a patient confirms their appointment, maybe you’d want to have a template saved that thanks them for confirming. 

Here’s what that could look like as a text:

{{Practice.name}}:Thanks {{patient.name}} for confirming your appointment on {{date}} at {{time}}. We look forward to seeing you!

7. Introduce yourself in your text messages

Another best practice when it comes to medical texting is introducing yourself or your business in each text. Don’t assume your patients recognize or have your business texting number saved on their phones. 

Introducing yourself will ensure more patients read your text and understand who is sending it.

Below is a real-life example of a dental office introducing itself each time a text is sent. 

A screenshot of a dental office introducing itself.
A real-life text example from a dental office.

8. Keep messages short, simple, and on point

Texting is limited by character count. This means that you should keep your messages short, simple, and relevant. There are several ways to make sure your message exudes these characteristics, including:

  • Only include one action (ex: Only confirm an appointment, ask one question, etc.)
  • Don’t use confusing abbreviations or acronyms
  • Don’t go overboard with emojis
  • Proofread
  • Be concise 
  • Introduce yourself

By keeping messages simple you can ensure patients understand them and know what action to take.

9. Text during business hours

No matter your use case, it is best to send text messages during typical business hours. This is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone.

That’s because texting is a personal communication tool, and sending messages too early or too late at night can feel intrusive of personal time. 

Plus, patients are the most likely to see and respond to your message during business hours. 

10. Personalize your text messages

Always remember when sending texts that there is a real person on the other end of the message. This means you want to speak to them like they are real people and personalize their messages. This will go a long way in building long-term relationships with them. 

Plus, studies show that customers prefer personalized conversations, and are willing to pay more for personalized experiences. 

Examples of how doctors can use text messaging

There are many use cases for doctor office text messaging. Here are a few: 

1. Appointment confirmations

Hi Sarah! Your appointment with Dr. Zion at UHC is scheduled for Monday, October 3 at 4 p.m. Reply C to confirm.  

2. Appointment reminders

Hi Jeremiah. You have an appointment coming up with Dr. Varkey on September 15 at 10 a.m. Please remember to arrive 15 minutes early to fill out some paperwork.

3. Appointment scheduling 

Hi Ari. This is Meredith from Seattle General Practice. Our records show that it is nearly time for your annual physical. Schedule it today by texting back, calling us, or booking online using this link: {{link}}.

4. Appointment check-in

Hi Gino. This is Kamala from ABC Primary Care. Text us when you arrive and I’ll get you checked in. 

5. Reengaging a past patient

Hi Ishaan. This is Kendra from Dr. Jay’s office. It’s been a while since we have seen you. Is this still your preferred contact number?

6. Fill a newly-opened appointment

Hi there! This is Anita from ABC Medical Office. We have a new appointment opening on May 10 at 8 a.m. If you’re interested in this appointment, please let me know as soon as possible. It is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

7. Information verification

Hi Carly. This is Joe from ProHealth Medical. I was just verifying your insurance for your upcoming appointment and found it is no longer active. Do you have different insurance I can verify? 

8. Follow up with a patient that filled out a contact form on your website

Hi Addie. Thanks for filling out the contact form! I see you’re interested in learning more about ProHealth Medical’s services. Would you be free for a phone call this afternoon? I am available between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

9. Check-in to see if a potential patient is ready to book

Hi Addie. I double-checked and Dr. Dimaggio accepts your insurance. Would you like to move forward with booking an appointment?

10. Test results available

Hi Mark. Your test results are available from your visit with Dr. Lowe. To view them, head to {{link}} to sign in and view the results.

11. Set an out-of-office message 

Sorry we missed you! ABC Medical’s office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. We will respond as soon as possible during business hours tomorrow. If this is an emergency, please dial 911. 

12. Payment posted notice

Hi Behavin. This is Kylie from Dr. Schneider’s office. Your bill is now available. To make a payment, head to {{link}. Thanks for trusting us with your health.

13. Payment reminder

Hi Behavin! This is Kylie from Dr. Schneider’s office. Your {{$X}} payment from your latest visit is due tomorrow. Please call us or use the patient portal to make your payment or set up a payment plan. 

14. Payment past due alert

Hi Behavin, Kylie from Dr. Schneider’s office here. Your {{$X}} payment is past due. Please call us or use the patient portal to make your payment or set up a payment plan. 

15. Ask patients to take a survey

Graham: Hi Jeff! This is Graham from Sanford Primary Care. Would you be willing to take a short one-question survey about your recent visit? 

Jeff: Sure!

Graham: Great! On a scale of 0 (bad) to 5 (excellent) how satisfied were you with the visit? 

Jeff: 4

Graham: Is there a reason you selected 4?

Jeff: The visit was great, I just didn’t love the 30-minute wait time. 

Graham: Thank you. Your feedback helps us improve.  

16. Ask patients to leave a review

Hi Adriana. We hope you enjoyed your most recent visit to Women’s Medical. Can you please leave us a review at {{link}}? Your feedback is invaluable!

The bottom line

Text messaging is a great way to communicate with patients when done correctly. If you’re looking to start texting, keep our practices and examples in mind. They will help you stay compliant and see the greatest ROI. To learn more about the benefits of text messaging for medical practices, read our blog here

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