While the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available, healthcare providers are beginning to prepare for how they will facilitate widespread patient access to the shot once it’s ready for distribution. Researchers and doctors are hopeful that the vaccine will be the cure to preventing COVID-related complications and death, thereby diminishing the public health crisis and improving the quality of life for people across the U.S.
Why vaccination rates typically struggle
During the 2019-2020 flu season, only about half of adults in the United States were vaccinated for the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While that rate was up three percentage points from the previous year, 52 percent of Americans were not protected against the flu. A RAND study suggests that the top three reasons why adults choose to go forgo the flu vaccine includes the beliefs that:
- They don’t need the vaccine
- They don’t believe the vaccine works
- They perceive a risk of unwanted side effects of the vaccine
Although the survey was conducted nearly a decade ago and was specific to the flu shot, we can generalize that the same principles apply to just about any low vaccination rate and those beliefs remain prevalent today. The study reveals that as healthcare providers and organizations, we have a lot of work to do to both educate our patients on the value of vaccines while establishing better credibility on their effectiveness, especially as we prepare for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
How to improve vaccination rates when the COVID-19 vaccine is available
The best way to enable patient access to the vaccine is by developing a well-thought-out communication plan that will engage their patients and increase vaccination compliance rates. The greater number of patients who get vaccinated, the better protected our communities will be. The following three steps can ensure your practice or healthcare organization is ready to develop and promote a targeted vaccination program that encourages patients to take an active role in their healthcare and seek preventative care in order to put a halt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Target your specific at-risk populations with navigational steps.
The first step to improving patient access to the COVID-19 vaccine begins with identifying which patient population groups need the vaccine the most. So far, what we know about COVID-19 is that aging adults, those with comorbidities, and immunocompromised patients experience the greatest risk of complications related to COVID–or any other respiratory illness. A COVID-19 vaccine communication plan should prioritize engagement with their patients who meet these criteria.
Many patients don’t intend to be non-compliant when it comes to getting vaccinated. They simply lack the resources or education to understand how they can get vaccinated or why it’s important. In preparation for COVID-19 vaccination, your healthcare team really needs to proactively answer the question, “What do I do and how do I do it?”
Whether you use automated text messaging, marketing flyers, or some other form of communication, the most effective way to influence vaccination rates is to be specific and clear about what patients need to do for a vaccine. Addressing the “how-tos” in advance of the vaccine becoming available can help to ensure your at-risk patients are prepared to receive the vaccine when the time comes.
2. Educate your population segments with clear messaging.
In addition to communicating the “how” to specific population segments, it’s also important to explain, “Why does this matter to me?” Patients need to understand the risks associated with going unvaccinated, such as serious illness leading to hospitalization or even death. If their risk involves a comorbidity, like diabetes or obesity, explain how their existing condition increases the likelihood that they may face serious consequences if they don’t receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Beyond personal health benefits, the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative for public health and the safety of those around us. Be clear about how their decision to receive or forgo a vaccination impacts the health of their family, friends, and community at large. By explaining the “why” in a way that is personalized and relevant to each individual, people can feel empowered to make a responsible decision that will improve both their life and the lives of loved ones.
3. Leverage behavioral economics to drive action.
Behavioral economics combines decision-making, economics, judgment, and psychological insights to better understand human behavior. University of Chicago professor and Nobel Memorial Prize winner Richard Thaler suggests that we can slightly shift people’s behavior by subtly changing the context for their decision-making. Many scholars in health care believe the key to driving change is by using incentives and disincentives to affect different and better human behavior.
In other words, perhaps we can make small changes in the way we incentive vaccinations in order to compel patients to take action. If we can identify how our patients’ thinking impacts their choice to get a COVID-19 vaccine, we can then take steps to influence what they think and therefore, how they decide to act.
How the HHS is partnering with CVS Health in anticipation of the vaccine
One way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to establish the national COVID-19 testing infrastructure and prepare for widespread distribution of the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available is through a partnership with CVS Health. The (HHS) selected CVS Health to pilot a monoclonal antibody therapy for patients who are “at-risk of severe infection or complications resulting from the virus”. As of December 3, Coram, the specialty pharmacy and infusion care business of CVS Health, began administering the intravenous therapy at long-term care facilities in seven major cities in the United States.
CVS has already served a critical role in making it easier for patients to access COVID-19 test results and other labs. Using HIPAA-compliant text messaging, healthcare professionals can automatically notify patients of test results, allowing them to quickly take action, whether positive or negative.
Is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in sight?
Vaccine development is a slow arduous process that involves research, clinical trials, and time before it’s deemed safe for public consumption. Due to the severity and impact of COVID 19, vaccine availability has been expedited. While we await widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the best thing we can do today is begin to plan for how we’ll disseminate the right kind of information to the at-risk populations who will benefit from the vaccine the most.
To learn more about how to develop personalized and targeted population health outreach, schedule a demo with an expert at Providertech today.