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Doctors, Millennials and The Texting Culture

Like any other brand these days, doctors have to figure out the best ways of communicating with their audience and potential clients.

Since the mid-1990s the Internet and cell phones have had a tremendous impact on culture and commerce, providing innovative ways for reaching out to people.

The Millennial generation introduces an important dynamic to healthcare communication. Technology is in their DNA and cell phones are an extension of their collective personality. As they grow up and become more influential in society, doctors must consider whether they will embrace ‘millennial communication tools’ such as texting to connect with them.

doctor texting his patient

Text messaging might be a smart way for doctors to ‘check in’ on their patients.



The Millennial generation consists of those between the ages of 18 and 32 or born between the mid-1970s and the late 90s. This is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. For most of their lives millennials have had the Internet and computer services at their disposal. Technological multitasking and immediate response communication such as instant messaging (IM) or texting are a way of life for them.

Recent studies show that nearly half of Americans adults now have smart phones (Pew Internet and American Life Project).

  • Android devices are used by 20% of cell owners, up from 15% in May 2011
  • iPhones are used by 19% of cell owners, up from 10% in May 2011
  • Blackberries are used by 6% of cell owners, down from 10% in May 2011

With the increase in the use of smart phones, the ability to stay connected via voice, text, and internet has increased as well, especially for young people.  According to a report by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, people between the ages 18 to 24 text 300% more than people between the ages of 35 to 44 and 617% more than those aged 45 to 54.

The question that doctors should ask themselves is this: How important is texting as a method of connecting with millennials?

Advantages of Texting

According to Richard Sweeney, NJIT Librarian and specialist in millennial studies, young people have unique traits that could be advantageous to healthcare providers.

  • more influenced by viral marketing than conventional marketing
  • hate to wait for feedback or responses
  • adapt quickly to technical changes
  • interested in services/processes that speed up services.

Doctors’ offices and healthcare facilities equipped with an email-to-text system, can quickly reach young people to remind them about appointments, payments, medication refills, upcoming events, and so on.

Some healthcare facilities are even going as far as using texting to ensure that patients feel cared for after they are discharged from the hospital. Childrens Hospital Boston is working on implementing a new system that will text patients the day after discharge to ensure there are no problems.

a text message from Children's Hospital

Children’s Hospital will use text messaging to check in on patients

These modern conveniences can be provided at a relatively low cost and yet have a powerful impact on young people’s perception of their healthcare provider.

Disadvantages of Texting

Texting should not be considered as a complete method of communication. Text messaging is best suited for small bits of information as the number of characters in a message is limited to about 160 characters. Consequently information shared via text might be unclear due to eliminated words or confusion over abbreviations.

Privacy laws are also something to take into consideration when texting. State and federal laws (HIPAA) could easily be violated particularly if phone services are not protected or text messages not encrypted. Also texting patient related information may also pose a risk of unintended disclosure, since there is no way to guarantee who is on the other end of the text message.

Key Take Away

Text messaging is a powerful communication tool for the millennial generation and provides conveniences for both physician and patient. However there are specific risks that should be taken into account when exchanging information with patients via text messaging.

Over to you? Is text messaging something that doctors should consider in trying to connect with young people?

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