Texting Etiquette – How to text patients the right way

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It’s no secret that texting is one of the most popular forms of personal and business communication today. But did you know how prominent it is in healthcare? For instance, a survey revealed that almost 70 percent of respondents thought it was helpful to receive texts from their doctors. This means it represents a substantial tool for providers to leverage to improve their patient experience and grow their practice.

However, business texting does not come without its pitfalls.

In fact, in a survey of 1,000 cell phone users, 71 percent admitted to sending a text they wish they could take back. And it’s one thing to send an embarrassing or confusing text to a friend or family member. But imagine having it happen with one of your patients?

To help ensure you’re crafting welcoming and friendly texts, while keeping it professional and not crossing any lines, here are essential guidelines to follow.

Table of Contents

Keep Messages “Text Friendly”

The first step is to establish clearly defined purposes for text communications to your patients. This will help ensure everyone in your organization is on the same page in terms of which types of communications are meant for text, and which are not.

For example, most medical practices use text to send and receive straight forward information such as appointment reminders and confirmations. But trying to cover much more beyond that can open the door for questions and concerns from the patient that really shouldn’t be addressed over text.  

To illustrate, here’s an example of a straight-forward message that serves its purpose:   

“Hi Chad, this is Sharma from Puterbaugh’s Dental. Just wanted to send a reminder that you have an appointment tomorrow at 3:30. Is that still good for you?”

Versus one that will most likely induce a series of questions that should really be addressed over the phone or in-person:

“Hi Chad, this is Sharma from Puterbaugh’s Dental. We’ve made some updates to the insurance plans we accept. But have also added some new financing options so you’ll want to make sure you ask the front desk about this at your next appointment.”

Can you see the problems the second example could lead to? The patient could start firing off responses like “Wait, are you not taking my insurance anymore?” or “What financing options?”. And it snowballs from there. The patient may even just call the office to clarify, which is what the team should have done in the first place.  

So again, to avoid issues like this, make sure you set up office-wide parameters for what types of messages you want sent by text, and which ones need to be addressed in a different manner.

Timing Is Everything

When it comes to proper timing with texts, there’s three elements you want to pay attention to: When to send, frequency of sending, and how quickly to respond.

  1. When To Send:

First and foremost, you want to make sure you’re sending texts to patients at acceptable times of the day. For example, if you’re auto-sending your appointment reminders and confirmations, make sure they’re not going out too early in the morning or late at night. You don’t want to be the notification that wakes someone up or interrupts dinnertime. Otherwise, there’s a good chance your helpful gesture will come off as more of an annoyance.

Additionally, you want to decrease the likelihood that your patients will receive the text while they’re driving, so avoid morning and afternoon commuting times. Overall, aim to send between 9am-2pm during the work week to increase the chance you’ll reach them at the office or during lunch.

Finally, consider the situation and procedure, such as with post-op texts. If the patient had some type of surgery where rest and recovery is needed, you may want to hold off for at least 24 hours before sending a follow-up message.

  1. How Often:

Frequency matters in business texting. Because you want to send helpful information to your customers, without being overbearing and giving them reasons to opt out. For instance, if you auto-schedule your appointment reminders and confirmations, make sure your system is setup to stop sending once the patient has confirmed. And if the patient hasn’t confirmed, don’t continue to barrage them with texts. Rather, try to reach them via other methods like phone or email.

  1. How Quickly To Respond:

Texting is intended for instant communication, so typically senders expect instant responses. Especially considering the average text response time is 90 seconds.

In personal communications among friends and family, delayed or non-responses can be seen as annoying or inconsiderate. But for a medical practice it can mean a bad patient experience and possibly negative online reviews. So make sure your team is responding as quickly as possible to any text communications from patients.

For instance, say a patient responds back to an appointment confirmation for their eye exam with “Yes I can make 8am, but is there any chance I could change it to the late afternoon instead?”

Even if the answer is not immediately known, make sure the text is at least acknowledged immediately, with something like: “Hi Dan, let me check on this and I’ll get back to you in the next ten minutes. Thanks!

 

Add A Personal Touch

Texting is a personal form of communication that’s meant to be conversational and friendly. So even though you want to keep it professional, you also don’t want to come off as too impersonal or robotic. The good news is it’s easy to add personal touches. For example, something as simple as addressing the patient by their first name can make a significant difference.

Compare this message:

“Hi Diana, this is Pearl Ophthalmology. Just a reminder of your appt on June 11 at 9am. Call or text us to confirm, see you then.”

To this one:

“Hello, please reply YES to confirm your appt at 9:00am on June 11 with Pearl Ophthalmology.”

Notice the difference? They’re both professional, yet the first example comes off much more personal and welcoming while the other is a blatant auto-send that was fired off at its scheduled time.

 

Don’t Bring The Jokes

Have you ever had someone blankly stare at you after you delivered the punchline to a joke? Or even worse, got the sense you offended them? Those same risks apply when you send a text that attempts humor, sarcasm, or slang, but without the opportunity to smooth it over after reading their questionable body language or facial expressions.

So overall, take a conservative approach in this area, especially when it comes to business communications. There is simply too much room for possible misinterpretation. And even if there’s a low chance the recipient would be offended or confused, is it worth the risk?

This would also apply to emojis. Because there’s only a few instances where using them would be appropriate in patient communications. For instance, in a follow-up text after a basic dental hygiene appointment, something like this would be fine:

“Hi Linda, just wanted to confirm your next appt is booked for May 15, 2019. We’ll send another reminder as it gets closer. Have a great week! 😊

However, if the patient just had a root canal or third molar extracted, they’re probably in some pain or discomfort and wouldn’t appreciate a smiley face emoji. The same goes for pre-appointment reminders, as many patients may be feeling anxiety or fear as the appointment approaches and might not take the emoji the right way.

 

Less Is More

Texting is meant for quick and easy communication and that’s one of the reasons it’s so commonly used. So if your text is overly long, you’re defeating the benefit of it.

Most SMS texting services allow for 160 characters (including spaces) before it starts breaking it out into separate messages. However, you want to avoid forcing your patients to be scrolling through your message in order to read its entirety. Many people are so distracted and rushed nowadays, they have difficulty tolerating that many characters in an email, never mind a text.  Plus, studies have shown that the average length of a text is only about 50 characters.

Ideally, your texts should be structured so that patients can respond with very few words, i.e. “Yes”, “No”, “I need to change my appt”, “That works for me”. If you need more information than that, reach out to them by email or phone instead.

The bottom line: People expect brevity with texts, including your patients, so get your message across while striving to make it as clear and concise as possible.

 

Recommended Next Steps

Texting can play a large role in helping medical providers stay connected with patients and grow their practices – if used correctly. Follow these guidelines and you’ll give your messages a great chance of hitting the mark every time. And if you’d like to learn more about how to get the most out of texting in your practice, go to www.getweave.com. You can even schedule a live demo.

 

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