By Ken Saitow, President & CEO of CareWire

September 2016 – Patient engagement is now recognized as a crucial component of high-quality healthcare services, as it contributes to better health outcomes and an enhanced patient experience, improves adherence to therapies, and reduces care costs. In the last several years, healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes have tried many things to get this right, but there is much to consider in evaluating patient engagement initiatives. Consider: How do you gauge effectiveness? How easily can you course correct, if required? How does the ROI impact the bottom line?

One proven strategic approach is to use mobile communication. The opportunities for weaving mobile and, more specifically, text messaging into your patient communication and engagement strategies are seemingly endless. This is especially so when you understand the power of this channel to communicate education, patient feedback, instructions, and alerts at precisely the moment a patient (and/or caregiver) needs to do something or know something about the care. From a scalability and resource perspective, text messaging represents an opportunity to reach the vast majority of your patient population, regardless of age or socioeconomic background.

But how do you create a program that really works, and more importantly, how do you know if it’s working?

There are a number of very important factors that must be considered, and pitfalls to be avoided, in order to make these programs successful.

Focus on a Specific Objective

Wherever you decide to start, make sure you have a specific business objective in mind—something that is not only measurable, but also that matters. In other words, if the objective is achieved, it will make a tangible difference to the healthcare consumer and/or the operations of the organization. Identifying a key set of metrics and establishing a baseline from the outset is one of the most important steps you will take.

Think Through the Workflow

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “Technology is only as good as the process that is wrapped around it.” This is certainly true when it comes to deploying a text-messaging program. In order to achieve a desired objective and get the most out of this channel, a well-thought-out integration plan should be formed and implemented. This should answer questions such as: “What happens when a patient responds to a message?”, “What do we do if a patient opts-out of the program?”, and “What if a message is undeliverable for some reason?” These and other similar situations will occur and need to be factored in among the overall design.

Build Continuous Improvement into the Program

One of the benefits of a text-messaging program is that, once implemented, it tends to run quietly in the background, completing its job reliably and effectively. Messages are delivered to the right patients at the right time with the right content. But just because the program is working reliably does not mean it’s working. Key participation and engagement metrics should be actively monitored and drive ongoing improvement efforts.

For example, if a call to action within a message is not being responded to either as often or as quickly as you would like, factors such as the time of day of the message, its content, or its relevance should be examined. Employing techniques such as A/B testing – where different versions of messaging can be tested to gauge what is most effective – is an easy and effective way to optimize participation and engagement and further improve performance. Neglecting to build continuous improvement into your program will result in missed opportunities to optimize outcomes.

Choose the Right Technology Partner

There are many technology providers that send text messages. Choosing the right one is a critical decision and can make or break the success of your program. The following are a few questions that should be at the top of the list when evaluating these providers:

  • Do they specialize in healthcare? Will they sign a business associate agreement and is their platform hosted in a HITRUST certified environment? A deep understanding of healthcare’s regulatory, operational, and data complexity should be a prerequisite for any technology provider.
  • Do they have expertise to help design and optimize your program or do they provide a platform only? Working with an experienced organization that can provide full lifecycle support will increase your odds of achieving the desired outcomes.
  • Does their technology include capabilities that aid in integrating the program into your day-to-day workflow? This should include dashboard and alerting capabilities in order to monitor the program and take action as required.
  • Can their platform evolve as your needs evolve? For example, if your initial need is focused on patient preparation and recovery but you anticipate deploying messaging to support population health management, will you need to change vendors or can they support a wide variety of healthcare use cases?
  • Do they have a process for securely interacting with patients? While much can be accomplished through SMS texting, if there is a need to exchange protected health information, it must be done securely.

Mobile engagement programs should be a part of any healthcare consumer communication and engagement strategy. They are highly effective, can be launched quickly, and are inexpensive when compared to other mHealth alternatives. To be successful, however, they must be thoughtfully architected from beginning to end, and supported by a robust and reliable technology platform.

About the Author

Ken Saitow is President and CEO of CareWire.  He has over two decades of experience providing performance improvement solutions for leading healthcare organizations across the country. He has also held operational and strategic leadership positions for a number of premier healthcare consulting firms. Ken has a track record of successfully bringing new solutions and services to market. Most recently, Ken was a Managing Director in Huron Consulting Group’s Healthcare Practice. Prior to that, he was an owner of Stockamp & Associates Inc. and a partner within the Global Health Services Practice at Accenture. Ken holds a BS in Computer Science from the University of Georgia.

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