Well Health, Twilio team up on patient communications tools to support vaccine distribution

a senior woman sitting on a couch using a tablet
With demand for the COVID-19 vaccine outstripping supply in many places, timely communication can help eliminate waste and ensure more people receive the vaccine. (goodluz/Shutterstock)

Patient engagement is a term that has been bandied about in healthcare for years. But now, it's an urgent priority as providers work to vaccinate millions of Americans against the COVID-19 virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on healthcare providers to ramp up digital communications with patients about testing, appointments and vaccines. But many health systems have struggled to implement a comprehensive patient communications strategy while also combating the health crisis, experts say.

Customer engagement software giant Twilio and patient communications startup Well Health are teaming up to enable health systems to more quickly roll out patient messaging tools. 

“Health systems are realizing, ‘I needed a solution yesterday.’ With Twilio, we have a system that can help them get to market quicker. We’ve helped to eliminate the friction of building patient engagement and communications systems themselves,” Guillaume de Zwirek, CEO and founder of Well Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

Well Health's technology enables conversations between patients and healthcare organizations through secure, multilingual messaging in the patient’s preferred communications channel: texting, email, telephone and webchat. The company provides patient communications and engagement technology to more than 200 healthcare providers and has helped facilitate more than 1 billion messages for 30 million patients.

RELATED: Cerner taps Well Health to improve patient messaging as digital adoption ramps up during COVID-19

The company has used its platform to help address major challenges in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, de Zwirek said.  Since the vaccine became available, more than 70 healthcare systems have used the company’s technology to send 1.6 million messages to patients about the COVID-19 vaccine and have scheduled or followed up on close to 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

With demand for the vaccine outstripping supply in many places, timely communication can help eliminate waste and ensure more people receive the vaccine, de Zwirek said.

As the industry increasingly shifts from in-person care to telehealth, digital patient engagement has become a crucial tool. In addition to vaccine and COVID-19-related communications, healthcare providers need to communicate with patients about everything from scheduling to prescription refills to managing chronic illness.

The partnership with Twilio enables providers to evaluate two HIPAA-compliant options for patient messaging through a single partner, eliminating the time and resources it takes to assess multiple vendors and making it easier to quickly deploy digital communications, the companies said.

Providers have the option to build a patient engagement platform on top of Twilio’s SMS and voice delivery application programming interfaces, or providers can leverage a prebuilt patient engagement platform by Well Health that offers multilingual messaging in 19 languages and can include texting, email, telephone and live chat, according to the companies.

The partnership also enables Twilio to expand its reach into the healthcare market.

The enterprise technology company is the "biggest tech name that people don’t know,” said Susan Collins, global head of healthcare at Twilio.

“If you’ve used Instacart to book curbside delivery or texted a Lyft driver, that’s Twilio under the hood,” she said.

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As companies have rapidly adjusted to serving customers remotely during the pandemic, Twilio’s application communications products became essential for companies like Netflix and Uber to interact with customers. The company is looking to bring those same services to healthcare to help providers better engage with patients, Collins said.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for more personalized messaging to patients and their families, Collins said.

“There are people being barraged with misinformation, and there are some populations with a cultural or historical context for not being huge fans of the existing healthcare infrastructure. Being able to message those people in a personal or compelling way, that could be the difference between life or death for some people,” she said.

Health systems also should be looking to “future-proof” their patient engagement strategies as the pandemic has accelerated healthcare consumerism, Collins said.

“Back in the days when I would travel, so a year ago, I would sit with executives in the healthcare space and say, ‘Travel and hospitality companies, they know me pretty well. They know what pillow I like, what newspaper I want to see in the morning. And that’s less important in a hotel than in healthcare,’” she said.

“We need to think about the kind of engagement that supports outcomes in healthcare, the kind of engagement that understands me as a human the way that Delta or Marriott understands me as a human," she said.