We are witnessing the dawn of a new world. One where we are seeing increases in the numbers of individuals who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. What does this mean for healthcare, the patient experience, improving lines of communication, and patient engagement? Glad you asked! Here are five new ways to approach connection with patients while simultaneously addressing awareness and support for COVID-19 vaccination, building transparency, and educating and empowering patients to have meaningful conversations with their doctor about immunization.
- Vaccine Icebreaker: There is no doubt that many patients may have concerns about whether or not they should get vaccinated. Patients may not feel comfortable asking their doctor and care team questions about being vaccinated during appointments for fear of sounding stupid, being judged, or being labeled as annoying. If doctors, nurses, and staff wore a badge or button sharing their vaccination status, it could become a welcome opportunity for patients to ask questions or engage in a conversation. During my last series of appointments with my doctors, one of my doctors shared that she received her second dose upon walking into the exam room. I took the opportunity to ask more about what her experiences were after the COVID-19 vaccination. This was not only an interesting conversation but also helpful as I mentally prepared for my own upcoming vaccine appointments.
- Vaccine Pride: Patients may feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, relief, and joy upon being fully vaccinated. Many patients wish they could wear a button to their appointments and healthcare encounters stating the words “I’m vaccinated.” Patients also want to share their commitment toward helping reach herd immunity and following the science. It's important to note that people who have not yet been vaccinated may be curious about what it's like to be vaccinated. But who is safe to ask? If individuals who have been vaccinated could wear a button celebrating their immunization, they too may run into opportunities to share their patient experience with the vaccine to help others arrive at the decision to get theirs. Patients who have been vaccinated can become community ambassadors for COVID-19 vaccination. Building trust in the vaccines must come from within members of local communities as well as those from the medicine field and public health experts.
- Transparency: If a patient has been vaccinated, especially a high-risk patient, and members of his or her care team have chosen not to vaccinate against COVID-19, that patient may not want to continue seeing that doctor and care team. We see the flip side of this in pediatrics, where pediatricians may opt not to see families who do not vaccinate their children for the safety of other children in their practice. Healthcare organizations must commit to supporting their internal staff in areas of vaccine hesitation and vaccine deliberation to ensure misinformation and disinformation are addressed and prevented from being further disseminated to the patient community.
- Safety: While we are still waiting on corroborated evidence to determine whether COVID-19 vaccines have a transmission-blocking effect, there is preliminary evidence pointing to the potential of vaccines to prevent infection. For me as a patient, it made me feel more comfortable and safer knowing my doctors were vaccinated at my last appointment, especially knowing the volumes of patients my doctors and care team have seen on a routine basis. Similarly, I wanted my care team to know once I was fully vaccinated, even though masks are still being worn. Keeping each other safe is part of a trusting doctor-patient relationship.
- COVID-19 Visitor Policies: Hospitals, cancer centers, and healthcare delivery organizations should update their COVID-19 visitor screening policies to reflect vaccination. This effort should include pre-screening questionnaires emailed or texted to patients as well as the questions used to screen individuals that are entering a facility. As our scientific understanding of the role of vaccination on transmission evolves, fully vaccinated patients and care partners that may be entering hospitals, cancer centers, and doctor’s offices may need a different type of screening process. COVID-19 no-visitor policies may need to be revised to allow for fully vaccinated individuals to accompany family members to appointments, emergency room visits, procedures, and admissions, or to be at the bedside of terminally ill patients. A great deal of suffering and disconnect has been endured by patients and their loved ones, as well as by caregivers doing their best to go above and beyond to fill immense voids. It’s time to revisit COVID no-visitor policies. As data evolves, so must our COVID protocols.
To find out more about how you can keep your patients informed and assured about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccine, check out the guide, "The COVID-19 Vaccine: A Resource Guide."