Text messaging, or texting, started with a “Merry Christmas” message sent to employees in 1992 by a Vodafone engineer, according to Mashable. After initial explosive growth, texting began to decline in 2009 and hit its nadir in 2012, BigFish PR wrote in The Rise and Fall of SMS Texting in 2014. Observers attributed the drop off at the time to the cost of text messages and the rise of PC and mobile device instant messages (IMs). In a marked technology turnabout, texting as a means of everyday communications is now stronger than ever.

West Corporation recently published a white paper that indicates patients increasingly prefer text messages over all other forms of communications from healthcare providers. In Provider-Patient Texting is Poised for Growth, West reports double to triple growth in the percentages of patients who send text messages to providers and who prefer to receive text messages from providers. The trend is strongest among Millennials but extends to all age groups in the U.S. The majority of patients expect text reminders for appointments and most are willing to confirm appointments via text. The expectations go beyond appointment messaging, however. Patients also want providers to text them regarding remote monitoring data, post-treatment instructions, delays that impact appointments, copayment information, and chronic condition management.

The rising preference for text messages may be the result of the current spam-laden state of telephone, email, and social media messaging along with the near-ubiquity of unlimited talk and text calling plans. On the other hand, standard text messaging is not a secure channel; content is sent and stored in plain text. This lack of security means that it does not comply with HIPAA requirements for the secure handling of patient data. There are secure text messaging systems available that provide end-to-end encryption of messages.  Unless healthcare providers give their patients access to such secure text systems, however, patient communications is likely to remain limited to scheduling information.