Avoid losing 55% of your patients to poor digital communication

If you aren’t already, pretend you’re the owner of a successful specialty healthcare practice. Or maybe you’re an administrator for a large regional healthcare system. How would you keep your organization afloat if more than half of your patients suddenly walked out the door and never returned? 

Improbable as it seems, a recent survey indicates otherwise. Bandwidth surveyed 1,500 Americans about their communication preferences as patients at various points of the care cycle.

It was eye-opening all across, but one result stands out: 55% of respondents said they’d consider changing healthcare providers if their provider didn’t meet their communication channel preferences.

Tech-enabled healthcare is here to stay

Tech-enabled healthcare refers to the technology platforms that offer digital solutions for checkpoints in the care process. These tend to mimic solutions that have been leveraged by other industries, like retail, for years: SMS + MMS texting, email, online apps, in-app calling and more.

When the world went into lockdown and in-person care was restricted, these technology platforms stepped in to minimize in-person healthcare interactions by offering digital scheduling, appointment reminders, intake forms, health records, prescription fills, patient monitoring, chronic care and more. Virtual-first solutions became the norm.

This infrastructure has been transformative. As patients reaped its benefits, they demanded more digital touchpoints – allowing digital healthcare to emerge as an industry of its own.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the evolved digital consumer, healthcare is also embracing digital transformation. Many organizations, regardless of size, are shifting to an understanding of patients as consumers in order to better meet their needs.1 Especially in healthcare, where interactions can be sensitive, technology can help personalize communications to put patients at ease.

Bandwidth’s research reflects this trend: When asked whether COVID-19 changed their expectations of healthcare, more than 80% of respondents said yes. 

Patient preferences are increasing

As patients increasingly expect their healthcare experiences to resemble consumer experiences, healthcare providers are providing more retail-like communication experiences through advanced tools like text messaging, in-app calling and email. Dubbed the “digital front door” by Gartner, these tools and the approach they represent can help bring in new patients, retain existing patients, improve health outcomes and reduce loss of revenue.2 

Deploying a digital front door is becoming critical. With 55% of patients willing to switch providers based on their communications expectations, there is no time to waste. 

Survey participants were polled on their communications preferences in scenarios such as making appointments, changing appointments, receiving preventive care reminders, refilling medications and obtaining test results. 

Here are three key findings:

1. Text messaging is emerging as a powerful communications channel.

  • 41% of respondents are likely to switch providers if their current provider does not offer text messaging as a channel.
  • Texting was voted as the channel of choice to receive preventive care reminders, appointment notifications and confirmations, to request prescription refills and to get prescription updates.

2. Phone calls are still important.

  • Although text messaging is emerging as a popular channel, it shouldn’t entirely replace the traditional voice call. In many scenarios, phone call and text messaging held the #1 and #2 most popular spots, respectively, for respondents.
  • However, in certain cases, this pattern changed. In the case of modifying appointments, a phone call was the number one choice.

3. Income plays a key role in patient preferences.

  • There was a significant correlation between income and preferences. Respondents in the lower half of overall reported income ($75K and under) most frequently named phone calls and text messages as their top two preferred channels. However, respondents in the higher half of overall reported income ($100K and over) were more adaptive to new channels like apps.
  • This could potentially speak to an accessibility concern, which is an important consideration for providers and the populations they serve.

Read the full report to see more findings and patient preferences on a per-scenario basis.

Future-proofing healthcare communications 

Healthcare organizations will never have a completely homogeneous patient population with the same preferences for communications. These preferences will continue changing as technology improves across the healthcare industry, as well as in other industries. 

So, in a world where each person has their own preferences in a constantly changing macro-environment, how can healthcare organizations accommodate everyone’s needs and avoid losing half their patients?

The best practice in creating a digital front door to attract and retain patients is by building optionality into your patient communication channels and patient engagement strategy. 

There are many ways to build optionality naturally into your patient engagement strategy. Most healthcare organizations likely already use voice calling. The next step could be to add texting capability to take advantage of the 98% open rate and to meet patient preferences for scenarios like appointment reminders and prescription refills.3 

Technology is at the front lines in meeting patient expectations and in finding ways to make care more accessible. The best way for clinicians, practice managers, hospital systems and healthcare IT leaders to future-proof communications strategies is to enable a multitude of channels. This empowers patients to choose their preferred channel of communication based on their own efficiencies and limitations. 

Learn about multi-channel patient engagement strategies here. 


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