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Automated patient outreach: How much is too much?

RingCentral for healthcare


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Today’s patients are more sophisticated. They’re looking for a positive patient experience, and they expect their providers and insurers to abide by patient communications best practices.

In this article, we’ll explore how much automated patient outreach is too much, and how you can use a unified communications platform to personalize patient communications to retain and engage them.

Quick guide to automated patient outreach
Quick guide to automated patient outreach

What is automated patient outreach?

Automated patient outreach refers to text messages or phone calls that provide call-back or next step interaction choices via an interactive voice response (IVR) system, that are sent automatically by a healthcare provider.

IVR allows people to interact with a phone system through speaking or through their keypads. Most people are familiar with IVR systems when they call an organization and a pre-recorded voice answers, routing them to their destination. In the case of IVR messages, the IVR system is programmed to make outbound calls; when the patient picks up the phone, the recording is activated.

The benefits of automated patient outreach

There are clear benefits of automated patient outreach for providers.

For a start, automated patient outreach saves time and money. It frees up staff members to do other things aside from reminding patients it’s time for their flu shots.

Additionally, automated patient outreach is flexible—providers can use it to target their entire patient population or a specific segment (such as older patients who should receive a shingles vaccine).

Is automated patient outreach alienating patients?

In a study published in JAMA at the end of March 2021, researchers learned that automated patient outreach has the potential to alienate patients.

Researchers studied over 428,000 adults from an integrated health system between October 2018 and September 2019. Two and a half percent of patients opted out of future text messages, while 1.5 percent chose not to receive future IVR messages.

While 2.5 percent and 1.5 percent don’t sound like big numbers, researchers saw a deeper trend emerge from their data. They discovered that patients who received a high volume of messages were more likely to opt out of future communications. Patients who received more than ten automated text messages were more likely to opt out, while those receiving more than 20 texts per year were three times more likely to opt out than those who received two text messages per year.

A similar trend became apparent for automated IVR messages: patients who received more than 10 automated phone calls per year were more likely to opt out of future communications than patients who only received two such calls, while those who received more than 20 IVR calls on an annual basis were the most likely to opt out.

There were two other points the researchers made:

  • Older patients were more likely to opt out of communications, but few other socio-demographic factors affected the likelihood to opt out
  • Patients were more likely to opt out of campaigns that weren’t personalized

These two points can be distilled into a single takeaway: the vast majority of patients don’t want to receive general marketing messages. They want information that’s relevant to their situation.

RingCentral for healthcare

How can providers avoid automated patient outreach overload?

Providers want to save time and money through automated messages, yet they don’t want to alienate patients with too much automated patient outreach. What’s the answer?

There are two solutions:

  • Crafting the right automated patient outreach strategy
  • Using the right technological foundation to implement that strategy

Crafting the right automated patient outreach strategy

You don’t want to alienate patients with too many automated messages, and you know it’s important to put patient communications best practices in place (specifically, sending patients relevant, targeted communications). Yet, you also want to make outbound communications with patients efficient and cost-effective.

The solution to this problem is to use automated patient outreach only when necessary and to ensure that you’re using it for patients who want to receive this information. For example, if you know that there’s a population of patients who frequently miss scheduled appointments, you could set up automated text message reminders the day before their appointment to ensure their attendance.

Additionally, don’t send messages too often. As the researchers pointed out above, too-frequent communication bothers patients, leading them to opt out. Find out how often your patients want to hear from you and communicate with them accordingly.

Using the right technological foundation to implement your automated patient outreach strategy

The right technological foundation to implement your automated patient outreach strategy is vital. A unified communications platform enables you to implement a successful automated patient outreach strategy that won’t alienate patients.

Unified communications platforms feature these components:

  • Messaging
  • Telephony
  • Video conferencing
  • File sharing and collaboration

Today, cloud-based unified communications platforms give healthcare providers increased flexibility to communicate with patients through their preferred channels.

Why are cloud-based unified communications platforms the right choice?

Cloud-based unified communications platforms are the right choice for providers to communicate with patients for the following reasons:

  • You can configure them to send automated appointment reminders to patients who need them
  • They’re highly flexible—they can run on mobile devices, so you can configure them even if you’re outside of your office
  • You can reach out to patients through automated IVR calls or text messages
  • Patients can connect with you through text message, phone calls, or video conference

In addition, cloud-based unified communications platforms are cost-effective. They combine a number of solutions (telephony, chat, video conferencing, and collaboration tools such as file-sharing) in a single place. You don’t have to manage multiple solutions, nor do you waste time searching for the right application; everything you need is at your fingertips.

With cloud-based unified communications platforms, you can implement a successful, cost-effective automated patient outreach strategy to send out relevant, targeted information to your patients. Instead of alienating them, you’ll keep them engaged to maintain continuity of care and positive health outcomes.

RingCentral’s cloud-based communications platform: the key to successful automated patient outreach

RingCentral’s cloud-based unified communications platform combines features and flexibility to ensure a successful automated patient outreach strategy. Providers can configure the unified communications platform to send out targeted communications to the right patients at the right time. To learn more, get a demo.

Originally published May 17, 2021

Bring staff and patients together from anywhere with messaging, video conferencing, and phone calls—all in a single platform.

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