Disclaimer: This blog article was written by an AdvancedMD partner. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AdvancedMD.
Though it’s been several weeks since the first COVID-19 vaccines reached hospitals, health systems, and other medical provider sites, healthcare leaders have been planning for months for how they would store the vaccine, staff vaccine clinics, and structure the logistics around distribution. One healthcare system executive from Bowling Green, Kentucky explained, “We started planning back in November because we didn’t want to find ourselves with vaccines and no plan. One of the things you worry about is that someone gets the first dose and thinks, “I’m good, I don’t need the second one.” You clearly don’t want that so being able to use technology to help get people back in for the second dose is really important.”
Adjustments to EHR and practice management systems include new departments, appointment types, and workflows. Changes are aimed at being able to track the dose and vaccine manufacturer, ensure patients return for the second dose, and distribution data can be easily reported to the appropriate parties.
With EHR and practice management system modifications in place, healthcare leaders turned their attention to the communication and messaging surrounding the vaccination process. Another healthcare decision-maker based in Tulsa, OK explained, “It’s really important that people who are scheduled show up, you have this precious dose that once it’s been mixed with saline and is ready to inject, is only good for six hours. So having people scheduled that don’t present creates a waste problem.”
With a second vaccine now approved (and easier to store) and more coming in the near future, distribution will expand to more organizations of all structures and sizes. Healthcare leaders that have yet to receive the vaccine are already planning for how they’ll schedule and communicate with their patients when they do receive it, which often requires a quick response and short lead time.
How Medical Providers are Using Technology to Create Vaccination Programs
Schedule optimization with self-service scheduling
One of the greatest hurdles healthcare organizations are encountering as they work to establish a vaccination program and get the schedule filled is finding the resources to schedule vaccine appointments. It takes an enormous amount of resources to do this manually but many are finding that self-service technology like patient self-scheduling can lighten the load. Several patient engagement software providers have recently released quick-start self-scheduling modules in response to the growing and immediate need to help hospitals, health systems, and medical groups schedule vaccine appointments quickly and easily.
Broad communication via on-demand messaging
When it comes to getting critical information about the vaccine to a large group of patients, including staff members or a specified list of recipients, broadcast or on-demand messaging solutions are key to distributing this communication quickly. This is the same type of technology that healthcare organizations have been using for years to notify their patients and staff when inclement weather or natural disasters like floods and wild fires affect their schedules, clinic closings, and more. Prior to the availability of this technology, communicating widespread changes would have requires hours of staff time to make manual phone calls.
COVID-19 configured appointment reminders
Medical providers are leveraging appointment reminders in a specific COVID-19 configuration to ensure minimal no-shows, confusion, and wasted time. It’s no secret that doses of the COVID-19 are precious commodities, so it’s more important than ever that scheduled patients arrive for their appointments. But appointment reminders configured by specific departments and appointment types also help staff keep patients organized and make it easier to track which manufacturer’s vaccine they’ve been given and which dose.
Some healthcare organizations have established a new department dedicated to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, this serves as a generic “provider”. This also allows them to specifically keep track of the flow through the vaccination process. Within the COVID-19 department, appointment types are created specific to the manufacturer and dose of the vaccine, allowing for specific messaging and tracking of the appointment.
Other healthcare organizations are operating a more decentralized vaccination model and have created the specific appointment types by existing provider locations instead of creating a designated department. Both scenarios work well to notify patients of their appointments, give them easy options if they need to make a change, and save staff time and effort helping patients navigate the process.
In either situation, healthcare providers are opting for primarily text reminders because they are quick, efficient, yield the highest response rate, and are intuitive to nearly every patient demographic. Response time is particularly important with COVID-19 vaccine appointments because the time between scheduling and the appointment itself is likely to be much shorter than most appointments.
How to get started
Even if you don’t have COVID-19 vaccine doses coming to you in the next couple of weeks, it’s likely at some point your office(s) will have the opportunity to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to your patients. When the time comes, you may not have a lot of notice before doses arrive so having a plan in place will save you and your staff time and resources and make it easier to inform your patients. Here are a few ways you can start planning now:
- Determine whether you’ll use a centralized distribution model or a decentralized model. A centralized model will likely require a subset of staff and providers dedicated to this distribution for a period of time but may be easier to organize as a stand alone department with its own processes and protocols. A decentralized model can make use of your existing physician network and be run out of those medical offices using existing staff.
- Identify your stakeholders and internal subject experts, these include providers, IT staff, and practice managers who can advise how vaccine distribution can fit into existing processes and daily operations and where they will need to stand alone or require additional resources.
- Take inventory of your current patient engagement tools. What tools do you already have that can be useful in distributing information to your patients? Will you need to make any changes in your EHR, practice management, or patient engagement system to leverage those solutions for COVID-19 vaccines? If so, reach out to your vendor(s) and start the conversation now. It’s likely that they are already doing this work for others and can help guide you through best practices.
Evaluate what could be missing from your strategy. Is there software available to you that would save you time, resources, and money to have in place when the vaccine arrives? Start evaluating your options and talking with vendors now.