The importance of patient engagement in healthcare is well established. Patients who are more actively involved in their care enjoy better health outcomes, have more positive healthcare experiences, and incur lower healthcare costs than their disengaged counterparts. Thus, it’s no surprise that patient engagement has increasingly become an industry-wide priority.

After roughly a decade of initiatives designed to foster patient engagement, patient expectations for proactive, convenient communication from their providers and health plans have never been higher. For example, 70% of patients in an Accenture survey said they’re more likely to choose a provider that offers reminders for follow-up care via email or text. 

However, it’s difficult to find informed and actionable best practices surrounding patient reminders at the most fundamental level: communications regarding future appointments. It begs the question: What exactly should reminder texts and/or emails look like? What kinds of information should be included—and why?

Take a Cue from The Consumer Space

In a recent Harris Poll of nearly 2,000 patients, there was nearly universal agreement that shopping for healthcare should be as simple as shopping for consumer goods and services. A report of the survey findings went on to say, “The message from consumers is clear: They want health plans and providers to … deliver a fully connected encounter that makes healthcare as seamless as any other online endeavor.” 

With this in mind, what information would consumers expect any top-tier brand to include in an appointment-reminder text or email? 

Let’s start with… 

  • Service-provider contact information
  • Directions to the appointment location—or a link to the virtual-visit platform
  • An “add to calendar” button

The utility and convenience of these features is self-evident, but perhaps more important, consumers expect them. Failure to meet those expectations could lead to decreased engagement—and all of its negative consequences.

Decrease No-Shows—and Open Up Valuable Appointment Times

The features mentioned in the previous section should help reduce patient no-shows—but this inclusion can have an even more direct effect:

  • An actionable cancel/reschedule link

The American Osteopathic Association estimates that in physician practices, the cost of missed appointments can be up to 14% of projected daily revenue. However, DocASAP data shows that actively engaging patients by sending them actionable appointment reminders and notifications—for instance, a simple cancel/reschedule link—can decrease no-show rates by 17%

When patients can easily cancel or reschedule, valuable near-term availability opens up for patients seeking last-minute appointments. This is particularly important given the findings of the Accenture survey: 62% of younger patients and 57% of older patients said that convenience of appointment times was either “very important” or “critically important” to their satisfaction with the healthcare services they receive. 

Don’t Forget Empathy

An effective appointment reminder fosters patient engagement through the inclusion of multiple key components. However, simply passing along relevant information isn’t enough. As Dr. Airica Steed, Executive Vice President and COO of Sinai Health System in Chicago, said in a recent interview, “We need to put ourselves in the patients’ shoes and identify how we can approach them with more cultural sensitivity and empathy.” Dr. Steed went on to say, “We want to reduce suffering and anxiety as a way to … deliver a holistic type of care experience.”

With this in mind, there’s one more element that any effective appointment-reminder text or email should include—at least for the foreseeable future:

  • COVID-19 screening protocols

Providers and health plans are not the only ones in uncharted territory. Most—if not all—patients face some amount of “suffering and anxiety” amid a new and little-understood pandemic. However, wide swaths of the general population have underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. More still belong to socio-economic communities that have been particularly hard-hit by the disease. Tens of millions fall into both groups.

Thus, it’s never been more important to, as Dr. Steed suggests, activate empathy to reduce suffering and anxiety. Appointment reminders can do just that by informing patients of the steps being taken to ensure their safety at the point of care—whether through extensive, in-office screenings, a move to virtual visits, or otherwise. 

Beyond COVID-19 screening, the pandemic has pushed patients to desire digital communication. An Accenture analysis of patient behavior during COVID-19 found that 60% of patients want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions. The report suggest that in addition to reducing exposure to coronavirus, patients appreciate the convenience and personalization of text, email, and other patient reminders.

Next Steps

Appointment reminder texts and emails are important tools for connecting with patients on their own terms. However, they’re just one of many ways in which a truly advanced, digital platform can foster—and automate—patient engagement in the long term. 

Learn how your organization can make patient engagement an operational cornerstone by viewing our eBook, “A Digital Engagement Approach to Driving Value-Based Care.

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