Today’s healthcare systems are overloaded and overwhelmed. Patients expect real-time communication about more information and data than ever before. Yet only 17% of patients currently engage with their providers in the most real-time channel—text. Healthcare systems are tasked to direct those conversations and onboard the growing number of patients through one channel—the phone at the front desk.

The result?

The call volume in healthcare hasn’t stopped rising:

  • 52% increase in call volume for telehealth
  • 29% increase in call volume for urgent care
  • 23% increase in call volume for hospitals

Beyond COVID-19, patients demand greater personalization and faster communication. Patients expect to speak with staff or doctors as soon as possible and get answers to their questions quickly. And they’re not keen to wait on hold, navigate phone trees, or repeat themselves. In fact, 52% of consumers say that repeating themselves is a top frustration. And 49% of consumers named long hold times as one of the top reasons phone calls are so frustrating.

Nurse Typing on Computer

Call deflection: the answer for healthcare.

With healthcare systems facing so many challenges, one solution offers a clear path forward—call deflection.

But what is call deflection? And what does it mean for healthcare?

Call deflection, at a basic level, reroutes incoming patient phone calls to alternate channels of patient communication. It’s typically implemented in one of two ways: a phone tree or an optimized website. But the options are riddled with challenges.

Phone trees present patients with more frustration—they don’t offer any personalization and they don’t connect anything on the backend. Plus, typically only 10% of consumers are satisfied with their phone tree experience while 35% find them difficult to use.

An optimized website can help if your patient starts their journey online, interested in quickly finding the answer to their question on your website (perhaps an easy-to-use and easy-to-find FAQ page or a patient portal can deflect some incoming phone calls). But most of the time, optimized websites don’t deflect patients that need to speak with a real person.

Patients prefer the most effective call deflection strategy: texting.

Instead of offering a phone tree, texting allows front desk staff to handle multiple conversations, reserving the phone for critical conversations. It reduces incoming calls—routing incoming questions that can be answered via text to the right person. It increases patient satisfaction—communication with patients on the device they prefer—their mobile phones. And it improves patient engagement with higher response rates—text messages are consistently opened and responded to more than any other communication channel.

Doctor Speaking with Patient

3 ways text call deflection can help healthcare

01. Reduce incoming calls

In healthcare, the appointment is critical. Yet only 50% of all patients who call doctors’ offices are able to book an appointment on the first phone call.10 And when they don’t get through the first time, patients tend to continue calling until their need is met. This leads to more phone calls, more time on hold, more frustration for the patient, and a higher burden for internal staff.

With call volumes so high, a reduction in incoming calls would be a welcome change for many healthcare systems. Text call deflection allows front desk staff to handle more than one conversation at a time (in many cases, up to 8 conversations at once11), saves time and resources (including the need to hire more staff to handle patient communication), and reduces calls throughout the patient journey.

With the right text platform in place, patients can text their healthcare provider’s office to schedule an appointment, ask questions about their billing, follow up on lab results, and more.

02. Increase patient satisfaction

Healthcare patients are tired of waiting. Whether they’re on hold for front desk staff, anticipating test results, or watching the clock for the provider to enter the exam room, wait times for patients are twice as long as other professional service categories (including the government).

Texting offers patients a communication channel they prefer—the convenience and familiarity of their mobile device. And 90% of consumers prefer to interact with a business—your healthcare system—via text message anyway. Implementing a text call deflection strategy communicates with patients where they already are for more than five hours a day—their mobile devices.

Text call deflection allows front desk staff to handle up to 8 conversations at the same time.

03. Improve patient engagement

Offering your patients one-to-one communication through texting can benefit more than call deflection. It can offer opportunities for higher engagement throughout the entire patient journey—reducing phone calls and increasing response rates from patients.

Text messaging boasts a higher response rate than any other digital platform—209% higher than phone calls, emails, or even Facebook.16 And if connected to other platforms—such as web chat or email—the benefits of a texting solution grow exponentially.

As a trusted contact in your patients’ phone, healthcare systems can utilize texting for other critical touchpoints—patient feedback, review requests, invoice payment, and appointment reminders. It paves the road for future engagement beyond an initial phone call replacement. Plus, 70% of millennial and Gen Z patients prefer providers that send a follow-up via text.

Texts have a 209% higher response rate than phone calls, emails, or even Facebook.

Bonus: text message call deflection is more cost-effective

Not only is text messaging more efficient for patients and front desk staff, but it’s also more cost-effective, too. A Forrester research report averages the cost of a phone conversation around $15.50 per interaction vs. $1 – $5 for 2-way text messaging. That’s a lot of savings for an industry tasked with reducing costs, running leaner, and finding new ways to move into digital transformation.

The average cost of a phone conversation is around $15.50 per interaction vs. $1-$5 for for 2-way text messaging.

Doctor Texting on Phone

How to get started with text messaging (at every stage of the patient journey)

  • Add a textable number to your Google Business Profile listing. Mobile searches are increasing and click-to-text is more convenient than click-to-call (and will ease the burden on your front desk staff).
  • Implement a text-to-check-in process. Texting check-in documentation and forms isn’t just convenient for the patient (and preferred), it frees up front desk staff to take incoming critical calls.
  • Collect feedback via text instead of incoming calls. 96% of all healthcare complaints are related to customer service. Offer a direct line to provide feedback via text and you’ll capture complaints before they surface in an online review or take up time by calling your office directly.
  • Send post-appointment information via text. Nearly 70% of patients report that they want more communication from their providers after they leave the office and before they return for the next visit. Meet the need and free up phone time by delivering critical care information discussed in the appointment or advice for preventative healthcare via text.
  • Offer mobile payment and get paid faster. Typical billing periods for patients can run up to four weeks.23 Reduce the time to payment, increase patient satisfaction, and free up over-the-phone bill payments with a mobile payment option sent via text.
  • Schedule appointments and automate reminders with texting. Through texting, you can reduce your staff’s time on the phone by scheduling appointments and even automating follow-up visits. Instead of phoning or mailing reminders, automate the messages via text.

Choose a call deflection platform that works

To ease the burden of your overloaded staff, you need more than call deflection. You need a platform that connects all of your communication channels together in one, easy-to-use inbox. Routing patient conversations from social media, webchat, text message, and more into a single solution.

Connect to your patients throughout the entire patient journey with Podium, the interaction management platform your multi-location business needs.

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Raechel Duplain
Raechel Duplain Group Manager, Solutions Marketing

Raechel Duplain is an experienced content, marketing, and business professional at Podium, the premiere marketing and communications platform for local businesses.

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