What Are the Best Ways To Contact Patients About Follow Ups and Appointment Reminders?

Today’s guest blogger is Chip Hart. Chip is the Director of Pediatric Solutions at Physician’s Computer Company and he blogs at Confessions of a Pediatric Consultant. This post is yet another discussion on the SOAPM listserv. By the way, if you are not part of SOAPM you are really missing out.
Anyway, Chip answered a question that someone posted about email and text communication with parents. They wanted to know if anybody used a service they would recommend. In typical Chip Hart fashion, Chip provided some insight into what to look for and what to think about, in addition to some of the services that are out there. 

Photo Credit: http://barrtek.com/

First, the most effective means of communicating with your patients when they aren’t in your office is still a person-to-person phone call.

I’m sure you all realize that, but I sometimes work
with practices who have the capacity for an individual or two to make calls.  If you have a nurse with time to be on Facebook, you have a nurse who can make calls.

Second, I **strongly** encourage any “electronic” patient communications to be done using a third party and NOT directly from the server that hosts your PM or EHR.

The example I use most is to ask, “So, when you send out those 1000 flu shot reminders, whose mailbox gets all the rejection notices?”  More importantly, when your ISP sees 1000s of emails come from your office, there’s a good chance they’ll shut off your service.  It happens to a PCC client about once a year when they figure out they can send emails “for free.”

Another advantage of the third-party process is that many of them are invested in making your contacts look more professional. Constant Contact, for example, offers really helpful templates for email communication, making the messages that go out with your name on them more effective and impressive.

Third, after person-to-person calls, the next most effective _reminder_ tool is texting!

Depending on your local area, email and postal mail are second/third.  The important thing to realize is that a) there are pros/cons to each contact method and b) they should not be considered exclusive!  That is, just because you’ve got a great system for sending texts doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon auto-calls or email.  Do them all.

There are, literally, dozens of vendors who will help with these services.  Some do email, some do robo-dialing, some do texting. Some do all three.  PCC and our clients have worked with a number of them and, no shocker, there are pros-and-cons to each of them as well.  The Big Fish in the pond right now is Televox.

When it comes to pricing, I’d ignore that.  Really.

If you have 50000 patient communications in a year (which is a lot) and one service is 2 cents more than the other, that’s, what, $1000?  When  you’ll easily save/generate a multiple of that difference?  No, go with the service that most easily fits your existing process.  I’ve seen too many practices go with “cheap” only to spend extra money on employee time to make it work.

ONE CAVEAT: most of the vendors make you sign a time- or unit-based contract.

You can’t dip your toe in.  One vendor I *really* like is “callemall.com” – you can sign up, do a trial run of however many contacts you want…and then never use them again.  At the NCE, I did a presentation walking through signing up to callemall.com and sending “my” list of overdue patients a well visit text in >5 minutes.


And a $20 experiment for anyone.  [I have no relationship with callemall.com, they don’t even know who I am – I just like their contract philosophy.]

So, to save you some google time, here’s a list of vendors I know:



  1. Who is this Chip Hart guy? He’s an illiterate genius!


  2. I don’t personally recommend Televox. The quality of the messages we received isn’t great and troubleshooting abilities are scant.

    In addition, if you need calls placed in non-English languages, have your interpretation staff validate the messages. We received some translations that the interpreters rejected out of hand as being of rather poor linguistic quality.


  3. Very good information. Lucky me I recently found your
    website by chance (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!


  4. http://www.talksoftonline.com is another high quality vendor that should be added to your lists. Phone, text, email and now iPhone App as well. The more ways the better to communicate with a variety of patients.