Recent news of the FDA’s emergency use approval of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines brings hope that our lives may soon return to normal. The vaccines, however, once approved, will still need to be distributed to millions of Americans.
Healthcare workers and high risk groups will be prioritized to receive the initial supply, but there will undoubtedly be high interest from the community in general. Will organizations be ready to distribute the vaccine and handle a massive influx of patient inquiries about this potentially life saving vaccine?
Preparing for employee and first responder vaccinations
Becker’s Hospital Review recently shared what they heard from several hospital leaders about how they’re preparing to distribute the vaccine, including Stephanie Jackson, MD, senior vice president and chief quality and clinical value officer at HonorHealth, a Twistle client. A critical component of their preparedness plan includes using Twistle to distribute employee education and instructions on vaccine plans. Dr. Jackson noted, “Once we have a vaccine, we can use the app to let our employees know when they can be inoculated. We can also use the app to report any side effects as well as to remind people to come in for their second dose.”
Keeping the general public informed
In addition to keeping healthcare employees informed about the vaccine, automated digital communication that is integrated with an organization’s EMR and CRM is also an effective way to notify high risk patients when they should plan on getting the vaccine, how to access it safely, and the process to schedule their appointment.
A digital platform could also reduce incoming phone calls and other inquiries by individuals interested in the vaccine but not yet eligible. Organizations can create an SMS autoresponder number that sends instant, automated messages to people after they’ve texted a specific keyword to your short code. With care team capacity under strain from the impact of the virus, implementing technology to automate patient communication can help maximize the resources and help organizations mitigate the coming challenge of vaccine administration.
Identifying high risk populations
Organizations will have to prioritize patient eligibility for the vaccine amidst a limited supply in the coming months. Each state has developed a variation of the eligibility criteria based upon the CDC’s requirements, and those recommendations are changing frequently. Limited availability of vaccine doses will require the use of screening questionnaires to identify state-specific risk factors such as age, ethnicity, and health conditions to maximize the value of early vaccinations, prohibit health inequities and ethically distribute doses.
Data collection is simplified with secure text messaging that reaches a large patient population, allowing healthcare providers to focus additional outreach efforts on those that do not respond. Furthermore, the use of a flexible patient engagement tool empowers healthcare providers to rapidly change survey tools to reflect changing state-based requirements for data collection.
Quelling fears about the vaccine
Another important way an automated digital communication platform could play a role in public health is through education. According to Gallup only 58% of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. Of the 42% who are unwilling to get the vaccine, the primary reason they cited was concern over the speed of the vaccine’s development. An SMS autoresponder can also be used to allay these fears by delivering a series of educational messages to patients who are reluctant but want to learn more. Hospitals could even automate a patient survey to identify hesitant patients and deliver small nudges and digestible pieces of information that break down the clinical studies, resulting data, and the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Monitoring and reporting vaccine-related adverse events
A series of automated interactive text messages post-vaccine may be used to deliver education and collect patient-reported data to detect adverse reactions. Surveys are effective tools to identify medically significant events such as missed work or the inability to complete normal daily activities. Normal side effects (soreness in the arm, muscle aches, etc.) can be distinguished from unexpected serious health complications to support early detection and intervention by the clinical team. Moreover, this technology supports safe expansion of caseloads for nurse care coordinators and infection prevention staff by identifying and prioritizing required patient follow up.
Preventing vaccine waste
The short shelf life of some vaccines and the need to administer multi-use vials within hours of thaw have some healthcare leaders concerned about waste. Planning and coordination are critical to ensuring that every available dose is administered, which requires clear and orchestrated communication. Digital care platforms support frontline workers by properly setting patient expectations, streamlining the scheduling process, delivering instructions and encouragement, and offloading administrative activities so that clinical staff may work at the top of their license by focusing their attention on patient care.
The vast majority of vaccines will also require two doses for maximum efficacy, and organizations will need a coordinated plan to ensure timely administration of second doses. Text-based reminders, educational messages and scheduling instructions are powerful drivers of compliance.
Leveraging technology to maximize your resources
The coronavirus vaccine represents the next major hurdle for our frontline clinicians to clear, and it won’t be an easy task. Millions of Americans will be standing in line to receive the vaccine and millions more are afraid to move forward. Healthcare organizations must empower medical professionals with technology that offloads routine communication, education, scheduling and data collection, and supports early intervention through alerts and dashboard indicators when patients deviate from the expected path. Efficiency and effectiveness are imperative in our quest to return to normalcy through coronavirus vaccines.