As a person who qualified for the COVID-19 vaccine, I underestimated just how complicated the process would be. I was navigating eligibility, where I could get an appointment, and what I needed to bring with me all alone. Even as someone who is more digitally literate than average, I struggled. The most frustrating part, by far, was how seemingly unprepared my doctor’s office was for getting me what I needed.
I had to call several times to get my doctor’s note, which was needed when I got to my vaccination site to prove that I had a condition that put me at risk if I contracted the coronavirus. To make matters worse, I have family in two other states, meaning I had to navigate three states worth of requirements to help them get appointments because it was difficult for them to follow as well.
Practices can be, and need to be, more efficient in helping their patients with their vaccination process. Through patient education, they can ensure that the patients who can be vaccinated know they are eligible, where they can go, and what they need. With internal best practices, providers can put a system in place to help get these patients what they need in a timely manner.
Patient Education About the COVID-19 Vaccine
With so much misinformation about the COVID vaccines out in the world, it’s important to establish your practice as your patient’s go-to for information. Patients report having mixed emotions about the vaccine, and part of that is due to all the misinformation out there. Information can come from anywhere: news outlets, social media, or even friends and family. It can be difficult to know what’s the truth and what’s fearmongering.
As providers, it’s important to educate your patients about the truth. Being able to share information about the vaccine options, as well as its safety and effectiveness, is the first step to combatting this misinformation. Patients can make more informed decisions about whether to get the vaccine when their providers can answer their questions and allay their fears.
This can be accomplished by sharing verified information via a newsletter or portal messages using your patient engagement tools. These messages should focus on education on the vaccine, as well as tips and tricks to stay healthy during this unprecedented time.
In these messages, providers should also share information about their state’s requirements for the vaccine. With differences in who is eligible from state to state, it can be difficult to follow. These lists can also change quickly. For example, New York announced on a Monday that as of Wednesday, the age requirement was going to be lowered from 65 and older to 60 and older. That opened vaccinations to a whole new group of people, but for those who now qualify, it could be difficult to follow.
This is also true when considering each state has their own list of what they consider comorbidities. Being able to share that information with patients can make it easier for eligible patients to know they’re eligible. As these new groups open, practices can use demographic searches in their EHRs to target patients with those specific qualifications and inform them. States also require different groups to go to different places and that can cause confusion.
New York allowed some groups to get vaccines from pharmacies in their area, while others had to go to state-run vaccination sites. The more practices can help their patients navigate this process, the more likely their patients are to get the vaccine. Sharing the CDC’s site on vaccine location can also provide support to patients looking for it. Providers can also run the search and share results in future messaging.
Provider Best Practices for COVID-19 Vaccine
While providers aren’t incredibly likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine to administer them in their office, they still have their own important role to play in the process. Aside from embracing their role as educators in the campaign against misinformation, providers need to be able to give patients quickly and effectively what they need to get the coronavirus vaccine. Outside of informing a patient, for example, that they can go to a local pharmacy with a doctor’s note for a vaccine, providers will need to give that note.
Streamlining the process of filling patient requests for the COVID-19 vaccine requirements can make it easier for everyone. One way to do this from the provider side is running demographic reports. That way, when a patient calls and asks for confirmation of their eligibility, there’s a running list to check against. Part of what took so long for me to get my note was that there was questions between the front office staff, who I spoke to, and the provider they were leaving messages for, that I did qualify.
I know my medical history, and what qualified me, but not every patient can say the same – especially when the requirements change so rapidly. Giving the front office staff a way to check quickly will decrease the amount of time it takes to fill requests.
Another best practice that can expedite filling these requests is to have a template for these provider notes. This involves having a document to copy over for every new request that a front office staff member can fill out. From there, providers can take some time in their day to go through the outstanding list, ensure they’re eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and sign off on the provider note. Streamlining this process not only saves the practice time, but it can be imperative for a patient who has an appointment the next day.
The final question is how to best distribute these notes to patients. Some patients may want to come in collect a paper copy of their note. With offices having hours for regular patients visits and hours for possible COVID-positive patients, it’s important to consider where this process will fit in. Practices can establish a time window each day when patients can pick up their provider notes to decrease risk of coronavirus infection and keep in line with the already implemented hours.
Another way patients can get these notes is through their patient portals. For those who prefer digital copies, or for those who are on a tighter schedule between request and their COVID-19 vaccine appointment, patient portal is a great option. Providers can sign a digital copy of the note, and upload it right to the portal for patients. They can then download it to their computer and print out themselves, or to bring with them on their phones. This negates the need for them to come into the office at all, which can also be helpful for the practice during their coronavirus patient hours.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for the practice, it’s important to have record of who in their patient base has gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. When making an appointment in most places, patients will be asked for their primary care provider’s information. This is to be able to forward the vaccination record to the provider. Making sure patients have the correct information is crucial to receiving it. Tracking how much of a practice’s patient population has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine can also better inform how much educating a practice needs to do.
Practices play a critical role in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. Even though they’re not the ones giving the vaccinations themselves, there’s still so much to be done. Patient education can help patients find out when and where they can get the vaccine, as well as clear up any misconceptions they might have. Implementing best practices will streamline the process of getting patients the information they need to get the vaccine. Most importantly, making sure that patients have the correct information is critical to being able to add it to a patient’s chart instead of them self-reporting, which they might forget to do.