Calculating ROI on text message reminders

By Brian Dolan

During the final presentations at an mHealth Workshop at TEPR this week, Barry Greene, President & CEO, & Med Practice Informatics outlined the return on investment for deploying a simple text message-based communications tool in a hypothetical one doctor practice. Greene showed significant costs saving and revenue boosting opportunities can be leveraged by using text messages to send patients appointment reminders, simple lab results and other "good will" messages like "Happy Birthday" or "How are you feeling?" 48 hours after a visit.

Greene's hypothetical practice only had to ensure that it added an initial item on admittance forms that read: "Check here if it is OK to use your cellular phone for patient communications." It would be even better to have a box for green lighting communications via text message, but the first option alone should put you square with HIPAA, Greene said.

Many text message systems like the one needed for these three use cases are free online. They are simple and free to use and are compatible with all of the major wireless carriers in the U.S.--no worrying about what kind of phone or service provider the patient has--they all have text messaging capabilities. 

Greene estimates that making calls for patient reminders, the way most practices operate today, costs about one hour of staff time per day per doctor (at the very least). At $12 an hour, that translates to about $3,000 a year per doctor per practice. Green says a free, text messaging portal online have a hard cost of zero and a soft cost of about 12 minutes per day per doctor, or about $600 per doctor per year. That's $2,400 less expenses per year, if true. The same soft costs that are associated with making patient reminder calls are associated with informing patients of lab results. By implementing a simple text system that could let patients no as soon as possible that "All results look fine" or "Please call us immediately to discuss" when appropriate, would also save practices about $2,400 a year per doctor, Greene said.

Finally, Greene noted that all these lowered costs are the result of less time on the phone, so in the case of lab results that could translate into more time for doctors (no longer on the phone as much telling patients they are fine) to bill more hours by seeing more patients in-person at their practice.

 "I'm sick and tired of people saying that there is no money to be made in these mHealth applications," Greene said during his presentation. So, what do you think--is Greene's math fuzzy, should every practice be offering text reminders or are there other privacy concerns and technology adoption concerns out there?