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The use of text messages for COVID-19 test results

Olena Kozhevnikova
31 May, 2021

That’s the way it is — early summer 2021 and COVID is still here to stay.  Growing incidence and demand for testing increase the load on the public health systems.  It’s been a while since the first and the second waves of the pandemic swept the world. Nevertheless, in many places, people still have to come to the medical facilities to submit their swabs for testing, and once more — afterward, to take the result. Many other people who have undergone testing log on multiple times to the web page with test results, disturbed and annoyed, to check if their data is available. 

There is a very efficient way to reduce the staff workload and still accurately inform patients: text messages for COVID test results. Both for governmental and for private testing providers this is a medium of choice. Providing people with COVID-19 results texted by SMS significantly cuts down their queue time. They will just open the message and either read their result or follow a link to it.

How are SMS messages already helping?

We understand how crucial it is that anyone who is tested for COVID-19 receives the results at the earliest possible moment, in a convenient, fast, and secure way. Especially those who were tested positive. With fast COVID results notification, infected individuals can self-isolate sooner, lowering the transmission risk. This will contribute to limiting the spread of disease.

More and more governments are hearing the public’s concerns and responding. Public hospitals and private medical centers are starting to utilize digital technologies to overcome those new challenges. In the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Chennai State, India, the automatic systems to communicate COVID-19 test results through SMS in 24 to 48 hours have been launched back in 2020, and are currently in operation.

Both positive and negative results are conveyed through SMS and confirmed infected people approach clinics. Earlier on, for example in Hong Kong, the practice was adopted that individuals who tested negative were not notified separately. However, to our good fortune, today such practice has been abandoned. People are being warned not to disturb their general practitioners for results, in order to keep their phone lines open for patients with symptoms.

Here are just a few decisive statistics showing the extraordinary performance of automated texting:

  • 92% of the adult US population own a smartphone or a cell phone.
  • the open rate of short text messages reaches 98%;
  • SMS is able to reduce missed appointments by 80%;
  • 62% of users check smartphone immediately after wake-up, and 79% do that within the next 15 minutes;
  • typically, a person spends 90 seconds responding to a text (against 1.5 hours for an email).

For a research company Ipsos MORI (London), SMS has proven its value across the urgent notifications and alerts. Earlier this year, Ipsos MORI conducted research aimed to track the spread of infection across England. In combination with postal and email outreach, they were communicating critical test results via text messages to the study participants at each stage of the journey. Over a million volunteers have done COVID-19 testing at home, and more than 5 million texts have been sent out to them: reminders, results, online survey requests, and more.

Text messages for COVID test results are a fast and convenient channel

Why are SMS texts the best choice for COVID results?

We have many ways to interact with the audience. Particularly in the healthcare field, the requirements to the medium are as diverse as the recipients are, so the efforts associated with communication, and the expediency on your side are.

As long as the representatives of every age and socio-economic cohort are being tested, it’s impossible to assume that they have similar preferences and tech competence. Some of them are reluctant or unable to download the software, others don’t like to be called, and the millennials prefer to be texted to. Messengers bring their specific challenges, and, above all, require the Internet. Meanwhile, look at how the SMS channel solves all of those issues right away.

  • Test subjects are universally accessible

Think about it: 3.8 billion and 4.88 billion of the global population own smartphones and cellular phones, respectively. Meanwhile, there are only two reasons why someone may not receive an SMS:

  • the phone is switched off for over 72 hours; or
  • the number is inactive.

The second situation is not uncommon: many clinics, insurance companies, and medical labs traditionally collect their databases manually. Not to mention how tricky this task is, without a careful check of the portability of mobile numbers it can turn out little more than unproductive. Patients fill out the questionnaires on one occasion — during registration. They are barely being asked to update their contact details, and themselves, they simply forget to do this. This results in hundreds of non-received messages with vital information wasted costs and effort.

  • Fast and save time for other tasks

Testing many people takes a lot of time. Communicating negative test results by employees is abnormally time-consuming. With personalized automated COVID notification by SMS, people tested negative, be it coronavirus infection, or any other disease, are told the good news as soon as they arrive. The medical team can thus completely focus on helping those who have tested positive, and get the precious time for other crucial life-saving tasks.

  • Being read instead of ending up in the junk

Not only do COVID-19 test results by text message arrive almost immediately, but they are read very quickly too. SMS spam rate is 2.8% against 53% for email. So, SMS are viewed by many more recipients. For those affected, it’s of great concern how fast they receive test results. Sent via email, they might be marked as spam, leaving the person anxious and insecure. And the statistics above prove that if your notification is time-sensitive, SMS guarantees the right attention at the right moment.

  • Personalized 

Due to the texting’s conversational nature, it is quite reasonable to use it not only for promotional bulk SMS but also for communicating privacy-sensitive information such as test results. People really look forward to receiving an SMS COVID result — it draws the closest personal attention and increases awareness of each individual about their coronavirus status. All those contribute to the epidemic situation improvement.

How to choose the best SMS provider for sending COVID test results by SMS?

Not all SMS providers are suitable for your objectives with no limitations. What to look out for, at a short notice? Here are some key points to consider when choosing a service.

  • Reliability and performance

As we have highlighted, it is evidently critical that those who get COVID test results by SMS actually read them. Don’t skimp on security: failures caused by inferior routes utilized by the provider, as well as the system overload must be prevented by all means. If you operate several testing centers, you may have to send thousands of SMS daily. Select a provider with direct contracts with your local GSM network operators, with sufficient carrier capacity.

  • Data processing and accuracy

Since the GDPR was introduced three years ago, data protection has come to the forefront of attention. Certainly, you need to discuss all local legal requirements with your counsel on an individual basis before making a choice. An established digital marketing provider verifies your contact database by means of online number lookup queries, which for the healthcare and insurance fields ideally should be streaming. As long as your contacts are kept verified, you can rest assured about deliverability and data security.

  • Usability and interoperability

A lot of software tools are implemented under severe constraints to stabilize the current epidemic situation as fast as possible. Easy connectivity is essential for your SMS gateway. Setting up bulk messaging dispatch should involve minimal effort on your side. Opt for a provider with a carefully described API and ready-made integrations. Thus, you’ll be able to perform compatibility testing with your applications in place before making a final choice.

Summary

Doctors, health insurers, chief medical officers call all COVID-19 testing providers to deliver their results using the texting channel. This is not only a sign of respect and politeness to the patient. It brings the immediate benefit of coronavirus critical data and contributes to public safety protection. Turnaround periods for test results sent by SMS are the shortest possible. Sure, the COVID pandemic is not forever, but the skills and digital technologies we are mastering today will stay with us, as well as the swiftness of response to the new public health challenges.

This applies not to COVID-19 alone, but literally to any clinical laboratory tests. People await their test results in breathless suspense and being tested negative for anything brings them unspeakable relief. Sending text messages is straightforward and reaches huge groups without effort on their part, in a timely manner. With a proficient SMS service provider, you will take advantage of impressive time savings and the well-being of the tested communities.

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