It’s becoming mission-critical for healthcare organizations to quickly and effectively scale outreach to their entire patient communities.
The rumble of a pending vaccine avalanche is growing, bringing with it optimism and demand for information.
A push to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days became a top priority when President Biden entered office. That count was referred to as “a floor, not a ceiling” for going forward. The administration is trying to pump it to 150 million vaccinations — a robust 1.5 million per day — in an attempt to inoculate the country and release the grip of COVID-19 on everyday life.
As expedited production gets under way, healthcare organizations are preparing to quickly ramp up large-scale vaccination programs. Achieving herd immunity — and a return to normalcy — hinges upon smooth delivery of logistics and information to the nation. So far, the process has been bumpy. Struggles to get an appointment. Last-minute cancellations. Reports spotlighting a concerning prevalence in vaccine hesitancy. These challenges are surfacing a critical need for coordinated, meaningful patient outreach and an easy way to deliver it.
Enter: Two-way digital communication tools.
Providers, still embroiled in the frontline fight, are leaning heavily on their tech investments to support vaccine rollout. Patient portals alone are falling short and creating a need for plug and play solutions to augment portal-based strategies. Overburdened care teams are looking for relief. Confused consumers seek trusted guidance. Expectations for access and convenience on-demand are higher than ever. Layer in a highly contagious virus and a tiered vaccine distribution program and the situation becomes nearly combustible.
An all-in-one communication platform can fast-become an essential “force-multiplier” in the war on COVID-19 by efficiently automating and scaling interactive outreach. Two-way patient messaging gets guidance and education to those who need it, reducing procedural confusion and reluctance. Healthcare organizations save staff time and operational costs, cut down no-shows and cancellations — which helps minimize supply waste — and ultimately, get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Equip patients + care teams for success.
STEP 1 Make it simple.
Patients are eager to get their vaccines now and they want the process to be easy. Even in normal circumstances, healthcare comes with a slew of complexities. Minimizing roadblocks to signing up for and receiving the vaccine will go a long way in easing frustrations on both sides of the equation. After all, providers and patients want the same thing: exceptional care delivery. Using two-way SMS, email, live chat and IVR calls, healthcare organizations can automate and standardize cross-facility messaging to coordinate a single, consistent and connected experience.
EMPOWERED PATIENT EXPERIENCES
Support patients before, during and after a shot hits an arm with personalized, interactive touchpoints. An empowered patient is an engaged patient. By helping them feel informed, organized and on track from start to end you’ll ease stress and return a sense of control over their own health. Offer step-by-step guidance and self-service options.
Make it easy to manage appointments by putting self-scheduling tools at patients’ fingertips. Broadcast messages to targeted populations when it’s their “turn” to receive the vaccination and include links to schedule an appointment online.
Queue automated text confirmations and reminders to reduce no-shows by encouraging proactive appointment management. From their phones, patients can easily cancel, reschedule and/or be added to a waitlist — a seemingly small interaction that goes miles in improving compliance, satisfaction and schedule optimization. Day-of reminders can be used to encourage timely arrivals and prevent schedule delays.
WAIT LISTS + DYNAMIC SCHEDULING
Appointments have become highly coveted moving targets. Smart waitlist features simplify the backfilling of openings from cancellations or other schedule changes. Instead of playing a frustrating game of “appointment-whack-a-mole,” patients can add themselves to a waitlist. If availability opens up, the person at the top of the list gets a notification. A couple of taps on their phone and the earlier time slot is theirs.
With no extra effort, providers minimize costly scheduling gaps while driving higher satisfaction rates. Invaluable vaccine inventory can be properly aligned to patient volume so unused doses don’t have to be tossed at the end of the day.
Streamline check-in with prompts to address pre-appointment action items. Direct vaccine recipients to complete screening and registration forms online, verify insurance and even handle copayments in advance. Eliminating the registration bottleneck shortens wait times, lowers overhead costs and facilitates more productive and efficient clinical encounters.
VIRTUAL WAITING ROOMS
Give patients a “contactless check-in” option. On the day of their appointment, send an SMS message requesting a response that alerts you to the patient’s arrival. A quick text reply — “Here!” — lets your care team know that Desiree is waiting safely in her car to be called in. Reallocate staffing resources to high-priority needs and limit exposure risks for everyone.
STEP 2 Inform people.
People are confused. They’re nervous. And they’re overwhelmed. In fact, lack of access to information could present a larger underlying problem than vaccine shortages.
“When and where can I get it? When is my second dose? What happens if I miss the recommended window for getting the booster? How long will the appointment take? Can I stay in my car until my doctor is ready for me? Where can I go to find more information? Is this even safe?”
New surveys show anxious consumers want frequent guidance and frictionless interactions when it comes to getting vaccinated. In a poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 60% of respondents said they didn’t have enough information about when they would be eligible for the vaccine. Another study shows Americans consider their doctors to be the most trusted source for COVID-19 information and would like to receive vaccine-related education from them at least once a week. In fact, provider-patient communication may be critical to achieving the goal of herd immunity. In its most comprehensive COVID-19 survey to date, the U.S. Census reports that “nearly a quarter of unvaccinated adults indicate they won’t get the shots,” citing concerns about side effects or distrust of information provided by the government.
“Knowledge is power” as they say. Regular outreach is an opportunity to provide reassurance, eliminate confusion, educate, inform and inspire. Send broadcast messages on vaccine safety, efficacy and the importance of receiving the vaccine. Add links back to supporting education on your website or patient portal.
Segment timely outreach to communicate eligibility, safety precautions and scheduling information. Promote patient readiness by using confirmations and reminders to help them know what to expect. Include instructions, make them aware of digital check-in and virtual waiting room options, and safety protocols.
Solving the long-running challenge of low portal adoption has become paramount. The University of Michigan’s national poll on healthy aging showed 45 percent of adults ages 65 to 80 — that high-risk population — don’t have portal accounts. Digital communication tools that seamlessly layer into a health system’s existing IT ecosystem can fill the gaps left by underutilized patient portals.
Another recent survey indicates patients prefer to use digital channels to communicate with their care provider. But do they want to connect by text? Receive a phone call? Rely on email? Or turn to an on-demand, AI-fueled chat option? When it comes to access, convenience is key. Leveraging a multimodal digital strategy tailored to individual needs and adjusted to health literacy levels offers the flexibility healthcare consumers now expect.
STEP 3 Support recovery.
The experience isn’t over when the visit is. Providers can maintain continuity in care between clinical encounters. Post-vaccination information and how-tos should be delivered to drive compliance with second-dose appointments and promote long-term health and wellness.
Automate customized outreach 24 hours post-dose to collect information, track side effects and respond to adverse events. Configure surveys to alert the clinical team if a patient becomes at-risk and is in need of intervention.
Follow-up sent at regular intervals reinforces adherence and retention. Connection opportunities might include a series of personalized educational messages in the days that follow to help patients self-monitor and self-manage from home. For example, remind them that a sore arm the next day just means the vaccine is working. Check back to see if common side effects are improving or progressively worsening.
Proactively reaching out to no-shows can uncover an easy-to-resolve cause and re-engage the patient back into the vaccine sequence.
Communicate smarter, faster, better.
Andy Slavitt, President Biden’s senior adviser for COVID-19 response, summarized what was most crucial in the coming months during a recent press briefing. “What we have tasked our team with is to get as many vaccines as possible into as many arms as possible,” he said.
The government is trying to move fast. Healthcare providers are trying to move fast. The public needs all entities to move fast. Large-scale communications delivered with the ease of effort and clear messages will help all three, ultimately serving as a form of elixir in a time of strife.