An independent pharmacy group in Halifax, Nova Scotia used a new platform to streamline the administration of flu vaccinations. The platform not only reduced the burden on pharmacists, but it also improved the overall experience for people in the community looking to get their flu shots. The pharmacy group is now well positioned to aid in the distribution of the COVID vaccine when it becomes available.
Associated Maritime Pharmacies (AMP), operates 8 brick-and-mortar pharmacies located in the suburbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia and in several rural towns. They made the decision to invest in new technology to help them better manage the 2020 flu season. Given everything that was going on with COVID-19, their pharmacists wanted to be prepared for the increased demand.
Plus, they needed an easy way for people to book appointments for their flu shots instead of the usual drop-in method that had worked well in years past.
The team at AMP eventually chose a platform by MedEssist, a company based out of Toronto, Ontario. MedEssist offers a SaaS solution that helps pharmacies connect digitally with their patients. In 2020 they introduced a module that was specifically for flu vaccination.
Healthcare IT Today sat down with Robin Ogilvie, Managing Pharmacist and Pharmacy Operations Manager at AMP, to find out more about the success of their flu shot program.
AMP rolled out the MedEssist solution to all 8 of their locations in August.
“The system only took a couple of days to implement,” said Ogilvie. “All we needed to do was train our pharmacists how to use the system and go over the new flu shot process.”
In early September, people from the communities served by AMP could go to the company website and pre-register for a flu shot at their local pharmacy. The pre-registration process was simple, requiring only: name, age and preferred contact method.
Once registered, the system would send out a confirmation email that asked for additional screening questions. These questions were customized by MedEssist to match the documentation requirements of the province of Nova Scotia. The information was entered and held securely such that only the authorized pharmacist at each store location could see it.
This pre-registration functionality accomplished two things:
- It cut down the time needed with each person at the pharmacy by as much as 50% since they no longer had to fill in the information on a paper form when they arrived.
- It allowed AMP to see what the demand was for this year’s flu vaccine – which could be used to order the right amount of vaccine, thus ensuring everyone in the community who wanted one, could get one. This ability to forecast demand will be critical when the COVID vaccine arrives.
The MedEssist system offers the ability to prioritize the recipients of the vaccine. It is possible to review the list of people who have pre-registered and build a prioritized list of vaccine recipients based on age, risk factors or other criteria.
AMP decided to keep things simple and went with a first-in, first-out approach to their vaccine queue.
Tied to Inventory
When the individual pharmacies received a batch of vaccines, they would enter their inventory into the MedEssist system. Based on that amount, the system would automatically reach out to the right number of people on the pre-registration list.
For example, if a pharmacy received 100 doses, the system would then go down the prioritized list of pre-registered people until all 100 doses had been assigned.
For each match made, an email (or text) would go out to the person asking them to choose a date and time for their flu shot appointment. There was a time limit for the response, after which the vaccine would go back into the pool and assigned to the next person on the pre-registration list.
Each pharmacy had full control over their availability and duration of each appointment. For example, they could set 5min appointment times per person with a 30min gap between appointments. The system was smart enough to adjust the appointment times based on the number of people that needed to receive the shot at one time (ie: a family of 4 would need 20min vs a single person at 5min).
Through the system, the pharmacist could see exactly who was coming in and when. They could also review the documentation and ensure that they had the appropriate dose ready for their arrival.
Overall, the experience with the new technology and new approach to flu vaccination was well received by both the community and the pharmacies.
There was a little trepidation when AMP informed their communities that there would be no drop-in flu shots this year, but that evaporated quickly as people loved being able to choose a specific date and time for their shot. People also appreciated knowing there would be a vaccine waiting for them when they arrived.
Pharmacists found that the system helped them to better staff their stores. On days with higher numbers of vaccinations, they knew to call in extra staff. This made for a pleasant and smooth in-store experience. There was no longer a danger of getting caught up in a crunch of customers waiting to get flu shots.
“We will definitely not be going back to the old way of doing this,” stated Ogilvie. “Having everything online and all the documentation filled out ahead of time, made the whole process so much smoother and easier for everyone involved.”
So far, AMP has delivered over 7,500 flu shots across the 8 stores. An additional 1,000 were booked and delivered at off-site clinics that they organized in their communities.
Positioned for COVID Vaccine
Although it has not been determined how the COVID vaccine will be distributed, AMP has shown that with technology and good planning, pharmacies can be an effective channel to get vaccines out to the public.
With the capabilities of the MedEssist platform, it is also possible for governments to build an accurate picture of anticipated demand. It’s not hard to imagine how much smoother things would go if public health officials could see down the store level who was putting their hand up to receive the COVID vaccine.
“There is already a lot of strain on the healthcare system,” said Ogilvie. “Doctors and nurses have way too much on their plate. Anything we can to do lighten that burden is a good thing. Pharmacists can help.”
Disclosure: Colin Hung advises MedEssist through ventureLAB, a Canadian innovation hub.