Over the past two weeks, Healthcare IT Today has received 100+ Press Releases and offers to interview executives from Health IT companies with COVID vaccine solutions. We have been deluged with information on apps, modules and platforms that will make the vaccination process smoother, faster, and more efficient. It is an encouraging sign.
We reached out to several companies to learn more about their solutions and to get a sense of where the industry is going.
The Ideal Vaccination Experience
Via email, Lisa Romano, CipherHealth‘s Chief Nursing Officer shared her 4-step ideal vaccination experience with us:
- Providers need to create awareness of their vaccine policies and procedures
- Providers need to prepare patients with proper information before they get vaccinated
- Providers need to schedule and communicate exactly when patients need to get the second vaccination
- Providers need to monitor patients after each round of vaccinations
Notice that Romano has 2 steps before allowing patients to schedule to get the vaccine. Step 1 is needed to ensure orderly administration of doses and step 2 is critical for patients to make informed decisions. Effective communication between providers and patients is key for both these steps.
“CipherHealth’s On-Demand Messaging can provide basic information and push callers to the provider’s website for program specifics,” said Romano. “Simple automated phone calls and text messages reach the broadest swath of the population and provide greater control and agility, which is so critical in this situation.”
But what should providers be communicating?
Sara Jost, Global Healthcare Industry Lead at BlackBerry recommends sticking to the facts.
“The World Health Organization has named Vaccine Hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health,” stated Jost. “Shining a light on real‐life stories of the repercussions of not vaccinating as well as the benefits is key. There are real fears around the COVID‐19 vaccines that will not be solved by “shaming” people to get it. True understanding of why the vaccine was able to be made quickly, how it works and why it is safe, is important to address.”
Jost went on to say that BlackBerry’s AtHoc Crisis Communications System can help deliver critical communications directly to the public in an accurate, secure and trusted manner. For context, Jost was using “trusted” to refer to technology trust (as in the message is coming from a legitimate and verified sender), but it is critically important that messages about COVID vaccines come from sources that patients find trustworthy.
Trustworthy Sources of COVID Information
A recent survey by Updox, a complete healthcare communication platform for in-person and virtual care, found that 34% of Americans see healthcare providers as the most trusted source of information on COVID-19 vaccines. Health protection agencies were the next most trusted at 32%, government entities at 9%, and the biotechnology companies developing the vaccines at only 4%.
“As a result of these findings, Updox recently released its COVID‐19 Vaccine Communications Package,” said Michael Morgan, President at Updox, in response to email questions from Healthcare IT Today. “This includes Secure Text, Broadcast Messaging and Electronic Forms, to enable providers to quickly and easily communicate updates on vaccine availability and appointment details, answer patient questions, encourage adoption, support documentation and keep patients and staff safe through contactless check‐ins and digital intake forms.”
This sentiment was echoed by Josh Weiner, CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach, who stated “Even more than early‐2020, this is a time for over‐communicating with patients. If you want to address vaccine hesitancy, if you want to start getting patients back in for the care they need, if you want to recover from this past difficult year, you need to create a patient experience that engages patients and builds trust. Let the vaccine rollout serve as a catalyst for getting patient communications right. This will not only contribute to a successful vaccine program, but it will pay dividends down the road.”
Customers using the SR Health platform can send messages entire populations and have two-way text conversations with individual patients. This degree of flexibility makes it possible for healthcare organizations to get the right information about COVID vaccines to the right audience using the best communication modality.
There is one area of healthcare where acceptance and uptake of the vaccine is extremely high: long-term care facilities.
“Data from AHCA found that when the clinics are set up in long‐term care facilities, 95% of residents are taking the vaccine,” said Dave Wessinger, President of PointClickCare a leading provider of cloud-based software technology for the long-term and post-acute care market. “This is certainly a promising statistic. The vaccination rate has been much higher in long‐term care providers when compared to the general population.”
This are several potential reasons for this high uptake:
- The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the elderly has been well documented in the news
- The vaccine has been touted by experts as the best way to save lives in long-term care
- Long-term care residents are in the high-risk category and therefore eligible to receive the vaccine early
- Vaccines are administered on-site, making it very convenient for residents to get vaccinated
Another positive example is the recent experience of Associated Maritime Pharmacies which operates 8 brick-and-mortar pharmacies in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They used a solution from MedEssist to allow individuals to pre-register and scheduled flu vaccinations. They hope to do the same for the COVID vaccine when it becomes widely available.
Self Scheduling Avoids Frustration
In a written statement to Healthcare IT Today, Robbie Hughes, CEO of Lumeon, stressed the importance of patients being able to self-schedule their vaccinations in these early days. “Defining a list of patients that need targeting and then engaging them to enable self scheduling. This allows proactive outreach, defined patient targeting and a better consumer experience than simply showing up and hoping for the best.”
Lumeon recently launched its COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Management solution that is designed to alleviate the logistical pressure on care teams through automated patient outreach, self-scheduling and surveys. The solution is based on Lumeon’s prior success with flu vaccinations.
Being able to schedule a vaccination appointment is vital and the Lee County experience should serve as a cautionary tale on what can happen when pre-booking is not available.
Late last year, Lee County in southwestern Florida made the decision to offer the COVID vaccine to seniors on a first-come, first-served basis. The resulting chaos made national headlines. Hundreds of seniors camped out overnight for their chance to be vaccinated and the line eventually wrapped around several city blocks. At the time, an online appointment booking system was not yet ready so county officials decided to get as many seniors vaccinated as they could.
Clearly, a free-for-all approach when vaccines are in limited supply is not an ideal experience for anyone. Not for the overwhelmed vaccine staff and certainly not for the patients who had to stand in line for hours (with some being turned away due to lack of supply).
It is encouraging that so many Health IT companies are launching new products or fine-tuning existing products to help with COVID vaccinations. It shows that companies are listening to their customers and acting quickly based on what they are hearing.
Kyruus, Relatient, ESRI, NextGen, Allscripts, Stericycle Communication Solutions, Hyro, and CareCognitics are just a few of the other companies who have recently made announcements about COVID-19 vaccine solutions. We are anticipating many more announcements in the weeks ahead.
Leaving No One Behind
It is easy to get excited about all these new technologies, but we must remember that technology cannot solve every COVID vaccine challenge. Romano shared a personal story with Healthcare IT Today that beautifully illustrates this point.
“My mother was in a line of elderly people waiting in excess of an hour for her vaccine appointment. These were the “lucky ones” that called a main hospital phone number repeatedly and got an appointment. Everyone was tolerant of the wait, just grateful for the gift of vaccination. After receiving the shot however, a well‐intentioned staffer told an elderly man she just sent a text “reminder” for him to schedule his 2nd dose appointment. He said what? I don’t have a cell phone. She said “I just sent it and heard it beep”. The man next to him said that was my phone.
The staffer then said he could schedule his followup dose in MyChart. He said what’s MyChart? She said here is the website and I will register you (handing him a paper). He said, “I don’t have a computer. Could you call my phone?” She then gave him another paper and said call this number and make sure you schedule by February 10th. He said can you just schedule me? She said no you need to call. He said can I call now? Ultimately, she scheduled him.”
To keep these people from falling through the cracks, we need more than technology. We need people who refuse to leave anyone behind.