The last few weeks have been nothing short of stressful in the healthcare sector. Hospitals, urgent care, emergency rooms, and even primary care clinics across the country have had to rush to enact pandemic protocol. They are racing to implement greater safety procedures, more efficient operations, and risk management as medical supplies like face masks fall into short supply. Two concerns are top of mind. First, how to handle the surge of patient calls and visits in regards to COVID-19 when there are already fewer doctors and hospital beds than other developed countries. Second, how to communicate effectively internally and externally as circumstances, policies, and operations change. 

Especially in these times of self-quarantine and social distancing, it’s crucial for healthcare providers to manage more of the patient journey digitally. Those that transition to digital channels for patient communication will be best able to manage during these difficult times as we strive to flatten the curve. Luckily, patient expectations have already been shifting swiftly to convenient communication channels like social media messaging and text messaging. In fact, messaging is now 3-8x more preferred than face-to-face communications across all generations

Here are six ways your locations can specifically leverage messaging to increase efficiency:

1. Manage all incoming and outgoing messages in a single inbox.

You’re being bombarded with incoming messages—particularly related to COVID-19—across multiple channels: phone, website, social media, and more. To ease the burden on your front desk and call center, you can take the following steps:

  • Add a chat feature to your Google My Business page so patients can easily text you with their questions. With the right interaction management software, you can set up automatic replies to your most frequently asked questions.
  • Add chat to your website to help field incoming messages. Choose one that will transfer all chats over to text/SMS so patients don’t have to stay on your website until the conversation is over.
  • Integrate all messaging channels into a single inbox. If you’re showing up where your patients are, then you’re likely receiving messages on Facebook, Instagram, your website, Google, Apple Business Chat, and more. To reduce the strain on your internal team, route all of your incoming messages to a single inbox that will keep a history of all your messaging interactions with each patient and can be used in a HIPAA-compliant way.

2. Allow (and encourage) patients to self-assess before calling.

One of the most efficient things your hospitals or clinics can do is reduce the amount of time your staff has to spend on the phone—and the amount of time your patients have to be on hold. To do this, you can:

  • Use Webchat to automate answers to FAQs. This will reduce the amount of time your internal team spends answering the same questions over and over again.
  • Point patients to an online self-assessment tool, such as this one provided by the CDC.
  • Find a web chat feature that can allow patients to self-assess their symptoms. This requires a chat widget with configurable scripts, where you can use if-then logic to ask questions about their symptoms and determine if they need to be seen before they call, message, or show up in person.

3. Point patients to effective digital channels first. 

To relieve the influx of foot traffic, many healthcare providers are already either directing patients to telehealth options or scrambling to implement telehealth services. You can make this process more efficient by leveraging web chat and text messaging to ask patients to schedule a Teledoc service before scheduling an in-person appointment.

Add a message to your phone system asking callers to visit your website and follow the prompts on your web chat. Configure your web chat to automate that process to take the burden off of your team. You should be able to then route conversations to a contact center or clinics using messaging, as well as send the patient any other informational assets they may need.

4. Keep patients in the loop about changes in real time.

Right now, circumstances are changing daily. With the right interaction management software, you can send automated, bulk text messages to keep existing patients informed about changes to protocol, procedures, supply, and more. 

You can also choose to inform patients on your website using web chat as a pop-up message with important updates like changing hours of operation.

5. Manage in-person visits using text messages.

Many hospitals and clinics have now implemented “wait-in-car” policies in order to keep their waiting rooms empty and safe from contamination. You can leverage text messaging to help you with this process by:

  • Texting patients with appointments that day asking them to wait in their cars and text you when they arrive.
  • Texting patients when you are ready for them to come in to be seen.
  • Using secure messaging in a HIPAA compliant way to text patients any private information about their visit (i.e. test results).

6. Bill and collect payments via text messaging.

Billing is historically a source of heartburn in healthcare. As it turns out, billing is more effective the more you can reduce friction in the process for the patient. You can now Request payments directly through text message, reducing the hand-to-hand transfer of card or cash and expediting the payment process. With interaction management software, you can automate text messages with links to your online payment portal, or allow patients to pay right from the text interface to make the transaction even easier.

Provide 1:1 patient care from anywhere.

These may be uncertain and stressful times, but you can reduce the stress for your teams and your patients by transitioning more of your patient interactions from phone, email, and in-person to text messaging. This will streamline processes for you and provide increased convenience without losing the personal touch for your patients. 

For more about how text messaging can improve your business operations, download our free ebook, Text Messaging: 3 Reasons Your Business Needs it More than You Think.