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July 2010

After my last article, which detailed how some office procedures are best left to the simplest approach, I was contacted by Dr. Charles Turner of Island Eye Care in South Carolina. He described to me how texting has become a mainstay in his practice to increase patient communication efficiencies. It’s simple, and less complex than having an unnecessary phone conversation. The following interview outlines his impetus for incorporating texting into his practice and his implementation process.

Q: How did you decide that texting, as opposed to phone communication, was best for your practice?
A: After a few years of traditional communication, I realized my staff was spending quite a bit of time on the phone and, most importantly, calling the same patients several times prior to receiving an answer. Initially, we implemented email to enhance our patient communication. After a few months, I found my staff was unsure as to which form of communication was best.  We decided to perform an in-office study of patient communication and they tracked the results for three months. The following is a summary of our findings:

Percent of patients that answered a phone call: 31%
Number of times a patient was called before an answer: 2.9

Percent of patients that responded to an email: 74%
Number of times a patient was emailed before an answer: 1.3

Percent of patients that responded to a text: 89%
Number of times a text was sent before an answer: 1.07

The results were clear: Patient response was excellent with digital communication. Increased response yields many benefits: less


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staff time communicating, less products to be picked up in the office, lower accounts receivable, and the most exciting feature, a more favorable perception of the office.

Q: Please give your brief, step-by-step plan for getting started.
A: Getting set-up is easy.
1. Set up gmail accounts for you and your staff (gmail.com).
2. While in gmail, click on “Settings” in the top right corner of your main screen.
3. Click on “Labs.”
4. You then must enable two features to turn on texting via gmail: “SMS in Chat Gadget” and “Text Messaging in Chat.” After you click on “Enable” you are ready to text!
5. Once back in your inbox, you will see “Send SMS” on the left side of the screen. To send the text, enter the patient’s phone number including area code. A pop-up will then ask you to enter the patient’s name so you can save it for future use. After entering their name, an instant message screen will pop up and you are ready to send your message. (You may need to check with your local cellular carriers to determine exact addressing protocol to ensure text is delivered).

Q: Were there any costs associated with implementing this texting program?
A: There were no direct costs at all, just the indirect cost of staff/doctor training time on how to text, text etiquette, and asking patients’ preferred method of communication.

Q: How did patients respond to this technology?
A: Young patients absolutely love it! Patients over 50 years of age tend to be a bit wary of this type of communication, so on average they still prefer phone or email. In my opinion, using technology in your communication can actually increase the patient’s perceived value of your services.

Q: When do you still use the phone?
A: I prefer calling when confirming appointments with patients that request phone follow-up, when dealing with insurance companies and vendors, and for any sort of communication that takes more than “two lines” of back and forth.

Q: Anything you would have done differently?
A: Like most changes in an office, I wish I had the confidence to do it sooner and implement!  The idea of texting from the practice was hovering for months before I made the switch. 

Simple Is Best Continued!
Thanks to Dr. Charles Turner for sharing his office plan and success with texting! If you have any comments, ideas or questions, feel free to send your thoughts to response@newod.com

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