Textual healing: The benefits of SMS in the therapy sectors

Healthcare, like many other sectors, has been revolutionised by technology. Wi-Fi and the Internet of Things, for example, are changing the way practitioners serve members of the public, with increased efficiency and quality of care the obvious end-goals.

Experts in the world of therapy have long been trying to hit both of these targets to ensure the needs of their patients are comfortably met on a day-to-day basis. Despite new technologies becoming available every day, the 20-year-old SMS could well be the tool they’ve all been waiting for.

The inspiration

While some argue the shift to all things digital has had a negative impact on face-to-face communication, there’s little doubt that it has improved the relationships that service providers enjoy with their customers and clients. Thanks to text messaging and social media, consumers can now interact with companies in ways never before possible. Healthcare providers – public sector or otherwise – would be missing a trick by ignore such an opportunity.

Among British consumers at least, texting is now one of the most popular forms of communication – ranking ahead of voice calls and emails. With so many benefits on offer, it’s pretty easy to see why this is the case. So how exactly can it help therapists?

Patient management

SMS has already been adopted by healthcare establishments across the world, simply to assist with patient management efforts. While missing the odd appointment may not seem like a big deal to the individual patient, non-attendance has long been a major pain point for clinics. Earlier this year, NHS England claimed that 12 million GP appointments are missed each year, at an estimated cost of more than £162 million. Add to this the suggestion that a further 6.9 million hospital appointments are missed annually and it’s not difficult to argue the case for new measures to be introduced.

As well as using Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to provide consultations for those who don’t require physical examinations, an increasing number of therapists are employing SMS as a way of cutting no-show numbers. This bit is simple too; it’s just a case of maintaining relationships.

Reminding patients of their upcoming appointments is the perfect place to start, and it’s particularly easy with the help of SMS. According to data from Ofcom, 93 per cent of adults in the UK now own or have regular access to a mobile phone, with the average user sending more than five texts every day. It seems, then, that this is by far the best way to reach even the most diverse audience.

Things are made even easier by the fact that SMS can be attached to existing customer relationship management (CRM) systems, meaning it’s possible to send reminders and other notifications automatically based on appointment times. The same cannot be said, though, for voice calls.

Remote therapy

Treating both physical and mental health conditions can be costly, with the time and skills of qualified experts coming at a premium. This is why there’s such a focus on improving efficiency in the industry. From the therapist’s point of view, the goal is to help as many patients as possible without service quality dropping. The knock-on benefit for patients is that services become more cost-effective. The same is true for governments if the therapists in question are operating on the NHS.

To this end, some mental health professionals are beginning to trial the use of SMS as a therapy tool in itself – and the results are promising. Experts in Singapore, for example, have argued that texts can be used as a way of overcoming the issues that many patients have with body language and face-to-face communication in general. Of course, it’d be wrong to assume that messaging can replace the personal element of therapy altogether, but it can certainly be used complement it.

Industry benefits

The benefits of text messaging in therapy don’t stop at patient engagement; it can also be used to enhance the relationships between professionals. As well as being able to stay on top of the latest developments, those in the industry can network with their peers in an extremely convenient manner.

Therapists, like most business owners and service professionals, must spend time building patient lists if they are to achieve long-term success. For maximum profit, this list should also comprise a mixture of private and network patients; one reason why networking is so important. For example, if one specialist sees a patient and thinks their recovery would benefit from the opinion or expertise of another, links can be established quickly and efficiently. This improves the patient’s overall experience, as waiting times are likely to be much shorter.

There are numerous technologies that can help therapists do their jobs to higher standards these days, but it’s important to look beyond the actual treatment. Focus as well on all of the elements that go with it; patient engagement and management being the prime examples. With this in mind, SMS can be vastly useful in many different ways.