The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders for their organization’s primary communication channel for patient appointments.
- 66% said phone.
- 24% said text.
- 3% said email.
- 7% said other.
The methods used by medical practices to inform patients about appointments remain crucial to the relationship between patients and providers, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and varying levels of quarantine and stay-home orders across the country contribute to heightened levels of deferred care.
In the same poll, 37% of healthcare leaders said the patient no-show rate increased in the past six months, while 21% reported no-shows decreased and 43% said “no change.”
The poll was conducted Feb. 23, 2021, with 745 applicable responses.
Matching message and method
Other studies of patient preferences by Binary Fountain point to convenience being a major motivating factor in consumers’ decision-making. Phone calls remain a reliable way to reach out to patients, as it’s the highest-ranked (55%) method preferred by consumers in Binary Fountain’s survey, but various forms of digital communication were not far behind:
- Email (47%)
- Text message (29%)
- Facility website (27%)
- Social media (23%).
“Text is awesome for appointments,” said Stewart Gandolf, chief executive officer, Healthcare Success. “It’s immediate. … It’s also intrusive, so you want to use text carefully but clearly.”
However, generational preferences still show up in survey data. Gandolf pointed to phone calls as the preferred method for older patients to book appointments, but most younger generations are more insistent on some type of digital method, such as booking online via a website, especially during non-business hours, as many working adults may not think about booking appointments during the day.
Some types of appointments don’t work well for text reminders: A study published in JAMA Network Open in January found that outpatient colonoscopy no-shows and bowel preparation adherence were not improved as a result of patients receiving automated text reminders and instructions.
No-shows and deferred care
Numerous patients missed appointments and procedures in the past year as the pandemic limited elective surgeries and generally kept more patients close to home rather than at their physician’s clinic. The care gaps resulting for that deferred care have contributed to a “slow and uneven recovery,” according to the recent MGMA/Humana research report, “No Time to Waste: Deferred Care and Pandemic Recovery.”
To counter this trend and ensure full schedules for clinicians, having effective communication strategies for smartphones and other devices is crucial in an increasingly consumer-centric healthcare environment.
- Did you know? In a 2019 MGMA Stat poll, 88% of healthcare leaders say their organizations use automated appointment reminders.
- Download Texting as a Tool to Improve Patient Outcomes and Increase Practice Efficiency, an MGMA-Solutionreach Health whitepaper.
Contact for COVID-19 vaccines
Many medical practices have reported experiencing increased phone calls and other patient communications as Americans “vaccine chase,” looking for available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Much of this flurry of activity can be attributed to medical practices largely being left out of COVID-19 vaccine rollout efforts: An MGMA survey conducted Jan. 21-24 found that 71% of medical practices report not being able to obtain the vaccine for their patients; 85% of independent medical practices reported similar issues.
A similar survey of 1,000 primary care clinicians conducted by The Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative found that nearly one-third (32%) of doctors reported they had not been included in state or regional planning of vaccine distribution.
Identifying who wants a shot and who does not
If your practice is administering vaccines, provide a waitlist for eager patients ready to get their shot. If a patient does not want to join a waitlist for the vaccine when it becomes available, consider asking to put them on a list for outreach so that a team member can call them or otherwise share education on the benefits and safety of the vaccine. For patients who refuse the outreach list, ensure someone listens to their stated objections to get a firm sense of what common issues are being raised so you can develop better scripting and education.
Preparing your team
Have a list of reasons to get the vaccine that will resonate with patients, which can be communicated by trusted physicians and other clinical providers, such as the desire to hug family members or to go on vacation later this year. For some patients, just mentioning that immunization could help lead to a “return to normalcy” is persuasive.
COVID-19 vaccination patient education/engagement resources
- The Public Health Communications Collaborative has extensive resources for educating your practice providers and staff on talking to patients, including a Vaccine Misinformation Management Guide, Answers to Tough Questions about Public Health, and The Language of Vaccine Acceptance: Words That Work (via de Beaumont Foundation).
- Download a Communications Cheat Sheet (PDF) from the de Beaumont Foundation about words that are most effective in discussing the pandemic with patients.
- Read more about how leaders at HealthLinc and Ochsner Lafayette General worked to understand patient views on the COVID-19 vaccines and build waitlists and outreach efforts as part of the immunization effort.
- The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) offer a vaccine education toolkit with sample messaging and suggested tactics that broadcast journalists use to craft vaccine education messaging that will resonate with their audiences.
- AAFP offers an FAQ for family physicians (PDF) to guide patient conversations about the COVID-19 vaccine.
- “Four questions to ask in building COVID-19 vaccine messaging” (MM+M).
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