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Improved Communication Accelerates COVID Vaccine Rollout

Posted by Mike Rigert on Mar 22, 2021 8:30:00 AM

Lea Chatham, director of content marketing at SR Health by Solutionreach, presented the webinar, “Proven Patient Communication Strategies to Improve the Vaccine Rollout,” March 16. The following are some key takeaways on how to take advantage of tried and tested communications strategies and practices to distribute the COVID vaccine more efficiently and widely to patients.

Although 21 percent of the U.S. population has received at least a single dose of the COVID vaccine, and just over 11 percent have received both doses, getting the vaccine out to people is a complicated business. There’s lots of hurdles to overcome, including surveying patients to gauge vaccine willingness, identifying eligible groups, alerting staff and patients of vaccine appointments, and the complexities of scheduling not one but two doses for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The larger the healthcare organization, the greater those intricacies of planning and logistics can become.

One of the greatest challenges providers face in the effort to rollout the vaccine is undoubtedly vaccine hesitancy. Polls and research show this is even more pronounced among people of color, including African Americans and Latinos. “Hesitancy is real and you need to address it now,” Chatham said.

A key to helping providers who are (or will be) dispensing the vaccine to overcome hesitancy and other related issues to getting shots in arms is improved patient-provider communication. Patients’ desire for automation in communication across the patient journey remains high, with one study showing that it increased to 84 percent during COVID. Similarly, 79 percent of patients want to send text messages to practices while 73 percent want to be able to text their provider. Texting—whether automated or two-way texting—allows providers to converse back and forth with patients throughout the healthcare journey.

“People want ongoing communication with their providers rather than a one-off,” Chatham said.

Electronic surveys are also a source of valuable interaction with patients. A health system in Alabama was receiving about 500 to 600 survey responses a month. After moving to a text-first approach, they now receive 6,000 responses a month.

In addition, patient education has been critical in helping inform patients about the COVID vaccine’s safety and efficacy and helping people get past their reluctance. Allied Physicians Group, a large pediatric group in the Northeast, launched informative webinars and social media campaigns to better educate patients and their families about the vaccine. Posting photos and videos on social media of medical staff getting their own vaccinations can be a powerful tool in overcoming hesitancy.

“By sharing information with their patients, healthcare organizations can be trusted sources of truth,” Chatham said.

In another case study, Boston Children’s Hospital utilized their text-first communication capabilities to schedule their staff to receive both doses of the vaccine. Not only did this help get their staff vaccinated quickly and efficiently but it also ensured that staff had a better understanding of the patient experience and of a more effective appointment workflow made possible by a text-first approach.

In a fourth example, a large health system in Alaska leveraged a text message approach to vaccinations to send 20,000 texts to eligible patients. Almost immediately, they were able to schedule 1,000 shots while booking another 4,000 vaccinations over the next few weeks.

“The response was phenomenal,” said the system’s senior director of operations. “In terms of branding with our patients, I think it engendered a lot of trust because they could hear it from their provider when the vaccine was available earlier than on the news or any of these other communication tools. It was smooth and it was easy. It was seamless, and it was secure.”

Vaccine Rollout Communication Strategies and Best Practices:

  • Determine up front patients’ communication preferences.
  • Use automated reminders and instructions to schedule appointments.
  • Send reminders at a proven cadence.
  • Include appointment details and information in reminders.
  • Advance reminders can include pre-visit instructions, such as COVID safety protocols.
  • Share webinars, social media, and texted patient education to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
  • Use a text-first approach to scheduling staff vaccinations and help them understand the patient perspective of the appointment workflow.
  • Employ group texting to get the word out fast and widely to eligible groups of patients about scheduling appointments to receive the vaccine.

For an all-in-one source of valuable patient education about the COVID-19 vaccine by trusted sources, including the CDC, check out the guide, “The COVID-19 Vaccine: A Resource Guide.”

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Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert