The key to beating the COVID-19 virus is here. The long-awaited, er short-awaited, vaccine has arrived. Yes, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, along with the FDA and the government’s Operation Warp Speed program, have pulled off nothing short of a miracle. From initial research to getting a vaccine into the hands - or should we say arms - of patients in the span of less than a year is unheard of. Most vaccines take many years to develop. And most do not end up having the efficacy rate that we have seen in the trials for the COVID-19 vaccine.
So hats off to all of those involved in pulling off this amazing feat, from scientists to trial administrators to manufacturing staff to those helping to distribute the vaccine. And, of course, now we add to this group the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers who are tasked with administering the vaccine to the public.
To this point, the sentiment has been hope as we’ve cheered on those vying to develop and perfect the vaccine.
Now that it’s available, the feelings of those on the front line of administering the vaccine have turned from hope and excitement to frustration and stress.
Pharmacies, government healthcare agencies, and other medical entities are receiving limited supplies. And being able to confidently predict when more is coming is impossible. This doesn’t even factor in the challenging cold storage requirements – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at -76 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s transferred to a regular refrigerator, its shelf life is days.
This leaves healthcare workers in the unfortunate position of not knowing what to tell patients who want answers - and who want the vaccine.
Complicating this situation is the priority order of who is to get the vaccine. While the guidance from the CDC is somewhat straightforward, enforcing those rules is a different story, especially since each state can set their own guidelines. Many vaccine administrators have no choice but to use the honor system. In a situation where getting a vaccine may mean the difference between life and death, expecting people to patiently wait their turn is problematic.
So is there anything that can be done to help alleviate the challenges associated with these problems?
The answer is yes.
The first solution that many of these healthcare entities are turning to is online appointment scheduling. Companies like AppointmentPlus have already helped local health departments, pharmacies – both independent and large chain, medical offices, and others to save countless hours by having their patients book online. Indeed, in the short amount of time the vaccine has been available, over a million vaccine appointments have been scheduled through AppointmentPlus. Using an online scheduling system for vaccine appointments has made the entire process more efficient. Not only are workers having to field fewer calls, but moving away from the walk-in model has lowered the stress level for both patients and healthcare staff.
AppointmentPlus and other online appointment scheduling systems also automatically send email and text reminders. While this helps ensure patients show up at their allotted time, it’s also a great mechanism to convey critical messages. These notifications can easily be customized to include instructions, links to forms, or other important information.
In addition to online scheduling, another easy-to-implement idea is to route those with questions to a centralized portal for information. In today’s world, a simple solution to this is to use your Facebook page. Although many healthcare entities are short on staff, it may actually save time to task someone with regularly updating your Facebook page. In a fluid environment like this, keeping the communication flowing and current is critical. If patients can be confident that the most up-to-date information is in a place they can easily access, they’ll be less likely to call or come in.
Finally, finding an efficient way to educate patients right now is imperative. Unfortunately, this includes having to debunk misinformation (“Is there a microchip in the vaccine?”). Instead of dealing with all of these patient questions in a one-off manner, which is incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive, set up a daily webinar. In this webinar, you can walk through all the common questions, including giving vaccine availability updates. With today’s modern virtual meeting tools, like Zoom, you can configure a call such that participants can only listen and ask questions via the comments functionality. Although these webinars do require some staff effort, it’s time well spent.
For both the general public and for the healthcare community, this is a unique and unprecedented time. And emotions are running high, from hope and relief to fear and frustration. In this fast-paced, changing-by-the-minute environment, it’s important for those in charge of administering the vaccine to take a moment and think about ways to improve and add efficiency to the process. Yes, it’s chaotic, but there are ways to help alleviate some of the madness. Move to an online appointment scheduler, maintain a central repository for up-to-date information, and set up a daily Q&A webinar. These ideas won’t directly eradicate the virus, but they will help to make the process smoother.