By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Hospitals—at least some hospitals—have a reputation for being laggards on the technology adoption curve. There’s some truth to that; after all, big medical devices have a big price tag and six- and seven-figure capital investments don’t happen weekly.
But the truth is that many hospitals and group medical practices have discovered new ways to apply advances in communications technology, but they neglect the public relations opportunity to spread the word. In some instances, the investment is low, but the patient and administrative benefits are strong, and thus worthy of PR notice to the community.
Texting or text messaging is one of those low-cost/high-value tech advances.
The various forms and formats of text messaging are so ubiquitous that this little powerhouse can slip under the PR radar. In particular, the versatility, capabilities and healthcare applications of texting are growing in number and also in value to hospitals, group medical practices and patients.
Text availability has grown with the proliferation of mobile phones. (Over 90 percent of Americans carry a cell phone.) It’s not just smartphones like the doctor-favorite iPhone (and iPad), but significantly nearly all cell phones support text.
Don’t get bogged down in this alphabet soup, but consider the marketing uses in these quick tech review:
- SMS – Short Messaging Service: Commonly called text, texting or text message. Of course you knew that; with nearly 4-billion active users, SMS is the most widely used data application in the world. But what nearly everyone has is actually better—the more advanced form of SMS is MMS.
- MMS – Multimedia Messaging Service: Capabilities here include longer text length, images, video and audio clips and graphics. MMS is standard with many camera phones, enabling the sending of photos and slide shows. (But wait, there’s more…)
- SMIL – Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language: (Say “smile.”) This is what enables presentations via simultaneous streaming of audio and video.
Some of the many benefits of text technology
And if this easily overlooked (and highly versatile) tool isn’t being used in your facility today, we predict it will be arriving soon. The cost is low, the benefits are many, and the opportunities to use SMS/MMS in healthcare and medical marketing are spreading rapidly.
Depending on the situation, here are some of the high level paybacks. Text messaging applications can, among other things:
- Reduce administrative costs and improve operating and workflow efficiencies;
- Enhance patient satisfaction and improve performance data;
- Operate in real-time and be highly individual;
- Improve treatment/medication compliance for better outcomes;
- Expedite patient service features (such as rapid lab results);
- Deliver aspects of Public Relations, marketing, advertising and media relations;
- Improve communications and interactions among internal staff and departments; and
- Support (and coordinate) the work of patient caregivers, family, and provider team members.
How text messaging is used in healthcare and medical marketing
The hospital and healthcare practice public relations opportunities that are based in its administrative advantages, and in the stories that illustrate the benefits to patients and the community.
- For example: One real world PR item in the news recently was about the Twin Cities’ Park Nicollet Health Services and a pilot program to measure, track and (quickly) improve patient satisfaction. “Patients receive a text message on behalf of Park Nicollet a few hours following an appointment when they can rate their experiences on a scale of 0 to 10. If a response is negative, it helps Park Nicollet figure out where a problem is,” according to this MedCityNews account.
Of note: Text messages are virtually never ignored, the system provides feedback in real time, and by early accounts, the beta test system is helping to boost satisfaction scores.
- Flu Vaccination Program is another example: Just last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) spotlighted a pilot effort “to evaluate targeted text message reminders for low-income, urban parents to promote receipt of influenza vaccination among children and adolescents.” The study—involving parents of over 9,000 children and adolescents—concluded in part, “a text messaging intervention compared with usual care was associated with an increased rate of influenza vaccination.” [The JAMA Abstract is here.]
Of note: The high read rate tends to have a high response rate. And further, the text media reaches citizens of every socioeconomic status at a significantly lower cost.
As further illustrations—and inspiration for public relations story-telling—other text and messaging capabilities include:
- Lifestyle improvement support (such as a smoking cessation program);
- Patient appointment, routine test, or periodic checkup reminders;
- Patient support alerts, medication reminders, compliance monitoring;
- Patient paging in reception and waiting areas;
- Updates regarding service, products, or facility changes;
- Personalized greetings, specialized best wishes or event notices;
- Notices regarding pending lab or test results;
- Communication with remotely located or disabled individuals;
- Immediate and wide-area communications for urgent matters; and
- Admin support tasks (such as payment reminders, process status updates)
How are you using text messaging? SMS applications in hospitals and group medical practices are public relations and story-telling opportunities that dramatically illustrate patient benefits. It is a popular media that reaches nearly everyone, is difficult to ignore, and functions with real time immediacy.
Do you have an SMS story to tell? It’s a topic that shows how technology can improve operating efficiencies and enhance the quality and convenience of patient care. A related article of interest, Get Small: The Digital World is a Mobile World, is posted here.