Right now, COVID-19 vaccine distribution is tightly controlled and only being administered at Closed Points of Distribution (CPOD)–for example, hospitals immunizing their frontline workers or via medical professionals visiting Long Term Care Facilities (LTCFs) to ensure our most vulnerable are vaccinated first.
But plenty of healthcare providers are asking for clarification about when they’ll play a role in vaccinating the broader community against COVID-19–and what they can do now to be ready when the time comes. Will dentists and optometrists be able to administer the vaccine to speed up distribution? How should smaller, local doctors and pharmacies decide who gets vaccinated first?
In partnership with the CDC, each state has made an enrollment process and operational guidance available to providers who want to administer the COVID-19 vaccines; applicants must demonstrate that they have the capacity to properly store the doses as well as assess the volume at which they can administer them. But the approval process is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to figuring out vaccine administration program logistics.
For healthcare providers waiting for the green light from their state, we’ve identified three key vaccine logistics they can start mastering now in order to hit the ground running come mass vaccination time. Because these three logistical considerations are so important across the board, they apply to every type of provider preparing to set up a COVID-19 vaccine program, and can be considered at scale.
See how Luma Health’s platform can meet the logistical demands of a COVID-19 vaccination program. Download our Vaccine Operations Solution datasheet today.
Patients trust their doctors, but they have less trust in government and the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, those hesitant to get immunized against COVID-19 have cited this distrust as their reason for not getting vaccinated. This means highly trusted local healthcare providers — like primary care physician’s offices and community health centers — will play such a pivotal role in moving their communities toward herd immunity. The call to become COVID-19 “vaccine ambassadors” has been echoed by the American Medical Association, among several other leading organizations.
At the heart of this role is patient education, which providers will want to proactively undertake before they start carrying the vaccine (and should continue when vaccines arrive). But where to start in reaching a wide demographic of thousands of (or more!) people? And how do you help resolve their varying levels of distrust? (“Trust gaps” are larger in Black and Hispanic communities, for example.)
First, send out broadcast messages to all of your patients. Most (if not all) won’t know where to start with getting vaccinated, so this will get the conversation started and point to your organization as a resource. (Need some messaging ideas? View our extensive collection of sample messages in Luma’s COVID-19 vaccination toolkit).
Once you start running informational campaigns for the vaccine, expect to get more inbound inquiries–a lot of them. To keep up with the demand for more information, consider meeting your patients where they already are–their phones. People increasingly prefer text messaging over email and phone calls, so a secure, two-way chat platform will appeal to their preferences. Texting means less time spent on the phone, repeatedly providing the same pieces of information patients are likely to be seeking the most. Texting also allows providers to respond instantly, foregoing the delay caused by the slower process of listening to voicemails, returning calls, or going straight to voicemail.
Finally, make sure to have a resource for frequently asked questions (FAQs) to improve efficiency. Create a page on your website with all the FAQs (which you can broadcast to everyone via a URL) and print out a version to have on hand for in-office visits. Accurate and reliable information is disparate, so save time with our well-researched, comprehensive COVID-19 FAQ sheet.
Without proper screening, you’ll likely be forced to cancel appointments when someone falls outside of the eligibility criteria.
Screening, registration, and scheduling have not proved easy for local governments–which can make local PCP offices understandably apprehensive. Long lines, crashing websites, and constantly busy phone lines for organizations administering the COVID-19 vaccine have become recurrent headlines across the country. So how can smaller organizations handle the influx of to-be-scheduled COVID-19 vaccination appointments?
Screening and scheduling will require different logistics compared to “mainstream” vaccines like Measles because of supply and demand challenges, as well as mandated eligibility frameworks put forth by local jurisdictions. Providers will have to figure out a system for conducting thorough and accurate screening in order to be compliant before your office can even get to the scheduling part.
Contactless eligibility screenings for COVID-19 vaccinations won’t be possible without a digital self-screening survey. Sending screeners directly to patients’ mobiles will maximize safety measures and time (this method will also come in handy for day-of COVID-19 exposure screenings).
Without proper screening, you’ll likely be forced to cancel appointments when someone falls outside of the eligibility criteria (Holy Cross Health in Maryland had to cancel 2,000 appointments after ineligible people were able to sign up). Not only does that slow the progress of combating the pandemic, it will hurt providers’ bottom lines (it is unclear at this time whether CMS will reimburse providers for wasted doses). Using a digital screening process (vs. a paper form) will also make it more convenient to adjust screening form criteria in line with their jurisdictions; an anticipated fluctuation in supply will lead local governments to change who can–and can’t–get the vaccine at any given time, and a digital platform makes editing eligibility screening forms much easier.
Once you start scheduling eligible patients, you’ll be doing so in high volumes. The storage aspect also comes into play here; if several patients cancel on the morning of their appointments, you’ll have to figure out how to quickly fill those slots so that the dosages removed from the freezer or fridge are not wasted. Many providers are already battling high cancellation rates, so adopting a smart waitlist solution that can automatically reach out to the next patients in line will help fill many more spots (and save doses) that rely on down-the-list phone calls.
In an ideal world, a patient gets the COVID-19 shot and your job as a healthcare provider is done. But there are two additional steps you’ll need to add, formally, to the mix after the first shot: getting patients to show up for their booster shot, and monitoring them for side effects afterwards.
In their Interim Vaccination Playbook for COVID-19, the CDC advises that providers who are distributing the vaccine set up a reminder system, since two-dose vaccines have lower retention rates. To make things more complicated, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have different wait times between vaccines–so you’ll need to be sure that your reminders (and re-scheduling tools) are telling the right patients the right times.
A highly efficient way to do this is to use an intelligent reminder system that links to your scheduling system. This will help providers immediately and automatically coordinate correct reminders for every appointment time–including when an appointment is changed. Research shows that reminders have a clear connection with a reduced rate of no-shows, so this tactic will greatly reduce any day-of scrambling to fill slots and move doses.
You can also use messaging to generate post-vaccine check-in messages. Instead of calling every patient or waiting for them to call the office with concerns, pushing out a brief survey that patients can complete at their convenience will help you keep tabs on how they’re feeling–and catch potential problems faster. Additionally, you can send post-vaccine messages reminding patients that they still need to maintain safety protocols, like social distancing and mask-wearing. (This may confuse some patients, so include a link to your FAQ sheet to help them understand why it’s important to continue safety protocols after the vaccine.)
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Because there is a notable level of apprehension around this vaccine, inquiries about what constitute “normal” side effects may be higher in number than more routine vaccinations, so you’ll need a quick and accessible way to “separate the signals from the noise.” Making sure your patients know that you are able and open to responding to concerns–particularly if they do experience standard side effects after the first dose–will build trust (and encourage them to show up for the second dose.)
Healthcare providers have been successfully using telehealth to monitor and triage side effects for years, from chemotherapy patient monitoring to psychiatric medication effect monitoring. With side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine likely to be far lower in severity and frequency than some other use cases for side effect monitoring, this makes virtual visits a safe and effective way to keep tabs on patients.
Ready to start preparing your organization to administer the COVID-19 vaccine? Download our complete COVID-19 Vaccine Administration Program Guide, which is full of tips, tools, and other valuable resources for healthcare providers.