Study Finds Patients Gain From Starting Telehealth Visits Through Text Messaging

A study published by researchers from the University of California San Diego has found text messaging as a viable method for reducing virtual waiting times for patients. In the modern era of technology, customers expect instant access to goods and services. These expectations also apply to healthcare. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth use has increased rapidly in order to limit the spread of the virus. Telehealth has been found to eliminate geographical, temporal, or travel-related barriers to healthcare access by bridging the disconnect between the needs of the patient and provider availability. However, despite the extensive use of telehealth, optimization has lagged. Telehealth users often encounter issues such as scheduling difficulties, communication between video participants and providers failing, extended clinic sessions, and prolonged virtual waiting room wait times. In an attempt to address the issue of long virtual waiting times, the researchers conducted a pilot study to evaluate whether the use of text-messaging is a legitimate solution. 

The study consisted of 22 patients who arranged a virtual clinical appointment at a stroke clinic over a period of two and a half months. Each patient had the choice of either waiting in the virtual room or obtaining a text message with their meeting link. 24 percent of the 22 patients used the usual waiting room method, while 76 percent used the text messaging method. No clients were seen late, and 55 percent were seen earlier than arranged, saving the clinic 55 minutes overall, according to research.

“Overall, the text method makes life so much easier for patients. As long as a patient has a smartphone handy, they can go about their day rather than waiting for the provider to join the video visit,” said Brett C. Meyer, clinical director of telehealth operations at UC San Diego . “For the provider, it definitely increases flexibility and may even increase throughput. Additionally, texting decreases the anxiety of a provider who may be running late. Knowing that we are not keeping a patient waiting is, in my mind, the most important thing. We respect that patients have obligations and their time is precious as well, and we don’t want to keep them waiting.”

The number of telehealth consultations at UC San Diego Health increased 1,000-fold during the pandemic. More than 550,000 ambulatory telehealth consultations for all forms of medical and surgical care requirements have been observed at UC San Diego Health since the start of the pandemic, indicating that the current volume of telehealth interactions is still significant. UC San Diego Health has stated that they will be expanding their text messaging telehealth option into various high-volume primary and surgical centers.