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No-Shows Causing Logistical Hitches for COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Posted by Mike Rigert on Mar 31, 2021 8:00:00 AM

Though the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to surge forward in both momentum and speed, the nationwide effort to get as many shots in arms as quickly as possible hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

In the win column, the pace of vaccine doses dispensed in the U.S. has doubled in the last two months with almost 130.5 million doses—or 77 percent of all doses delivered—have been administered as of March 24.

Yet across the country a disturbing trend has popped up where the number of no-shows for vaccine appointments has reached significant proportions. Dubbed by some as “vaccine shopping,” where not only in some cases do people search for a particular brand of the three COVID vaccines, but they also register for multiple slots with various healthcare organizations in order to secure the closest and soonest appointment. The problem crops up when people find a vaccine time slot they like and fail to cancel other vaccine appointments they may have scheduled.

In one report, no-show rates for vaccine appointments was estimated to be as high as 20 percent, and news outlets around the country cited similar numbers. The no-shows cause a cascading effect of logistics problems for providers who then are left scrambling to fill the vaccine slots to prevent doses from going to waste. Because of the stringent refrigeration requirements of the vaccines, doses are thawed out well in advance each day based on actual slot registrations. But like regular medical appointments, vaccine no-shows don’t allow staff the time to fill the empty slots. The no-shows also make it more difficult for patients trying to schedule a vaccine to find available appointment openings.

“It puts us in crisis every time we need to find people to fill those slots,” said a Philadelphia area-based vaccine coordinator.

There’s a couple things that providers are doing to combat the vaccine no-shows:

  • Many providers are creating will-call lists where patients can sign-up to be contacted on short notice to get the vaccine when there are no-shows.
  • Providers are also overbooking appointments to offset built-in, anticipated no-shows rates, such as 10 percent.
  • Organizers also should make sure there is a simple and easy way for patients to cancel vaccine appointments to help reduce no-shows and late cancellations. Some patients who booked multiple appointments expressed frustration when they went back to cancel unneeded appointments only to find that there was either no way (or no convenient) way to do so.

Providers can also leverage a digital patient communication system to send out automatic text reminders to more efficiently schedule vaccine appointments with large groups of patients. They can also include information or links in text reminders or pre-visit instructions on how to cancel an appointment to help cut down on no-shows.

A large health system in Alaska put their group texting alerts capability into action to send out 20,000 texts to nearly 10,000 patients. They were quickly able to dispense 1,000 doses of the vaccine and administer another 4,000 doses in the following weeks.

For more tips and best practices on how to reduce no-shows and late cancellations for COVID vaccinations or regular medical appointments, check out the guide, “No-Shows No More.”

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Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert