25 August 2017

The New SMS Protocol

It's no secret that missed doctor appointments cost doctors oodles of money.1 For some reason, doctors don't like this, so patients receive oodles of appointment reminders. Mailed reminders and phone calls are quickly becoming things of the past, in favor of cheaper alternatives often bundled into existing medical scheduling software. There are lots of obvious plus sides for the doctor, but what about for the patient?

Doctors are on the very short list of people who get my cell phone number. I don't want to play telephone tag when waiting for biopsy results. Plus there are all those nifty laws requiring doctors to keep personal information safe. I felt I could trust them. That trust crumpled under an avalanche of text reminders.

I received the first from Dr. Plastic Surgeon, alerting me to an upcoming appointment. In a week. I was miffed, but that was nothing compared to my mood after I received one the day before and the day of. I did not miss that appointment, if only to have a little chat with the receptionist.

Dr. Dentist and Dr. Optometrist soon followed suit, and I had more little chats. It's the same story every time. "We didn't text you, our scheduling software did." Somehow not a single office administrator understood their office is ultimately in control of said software, from purchase to configuration to use. Medical offices should not be hiring anyone who exhibits this level of cognitive inertia.

Some doctors also have my email address, usually for sending me forms to fill out ahead of time. On top of appointment reminders, I'm also receiving workshop bulletins, surveys, and my personal favorite, new product announcements. Every single one of those gets reported as spam. Every single time.

New patients fill out extensive questionnaires including contact information. Most of them very specifically ask if they can leave phone messages and with what level of detail, such as test results. Where was this level of concern when someone clicked "Yes" next to "Send text message reminders?" It's much easier for a random person to see an SMS snippet with a doctor's name on a phone screen than it is for a random person to listen to someone else's voice mail. I can't wait for the first lawsuit due to the wrong person seeing a text reminder for an obstetrician.