What happens when a deadly winter storm strikes during a pandemic? The country is finding out.
Power outages in Texas. Hospitals filling in Oklahoma. Concern growing as the dangerous, inclement weather travels from the United States’ midsection to its Northeast corridor. Ice, snow and myriad problems are coming along for the ride, all stalling a COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort still in its infancy.
The disastrous duality has a term: a compound extreme event. Pairing a wildfire and heat wave, for instance. In this case, it’s an ongoing pandemic now encased in ice and generating yet another new challenge thanks to widespread power outages.
Healthcare organizations are forced to scramble once again. Vaccine appointments need to be cancelled, patients need to be rescheduled, and providers need a simple, interactive way to inform and educate those staring at their phones and wondering, “What’s next?”
Meeting vaccine supply and demand expectations is already an ongoing challenge. Providers, already trying to carefully and accurately align inventory to patient volume, now facing the compounding impact of shipping delays. The CDC announced Tuesday the government is projecting “widespread delays” of vaccine deliveries across the country. Multiple cities and states are already feeling the impact.
And with the delays come cancellations. The pending avalanche of rescheduled appointments — and the coordination of them — is expected to exacerbate existing challenges and make it harder to meet distribution targets.
GROWING MOMENTUM FORCED TO PAUSE
In Chicago, all city-run vaccine sites were closed Tuesday because of the winter weather and appointments there will be rescheduled, city officials said. Shipments of COVID-19 vaccines coming to the area were previously stalled by a hefty late-weekend snowfall, making an already heavy lift all the more difficult.
Vaccine distribution in Missouri is also suddenly stalled for a week because of the powerful storms.
“Missouri is experiencing severe winter weather that makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said early in the week. “These conditions will also likely delay some vaccine shipments. We want to protect the safety of everyone involved in the mass vaccination events, from the patients being vaccinated to the volunteers who generously support these events.”
More shipment delays are expected in Nevada. Texas has shut down a multitude of vaccination sites. Tennessee has shuttered county-run health departments.
The storm has become another formidable hurdle for a nation desperately trying to recover from the pandemic. With it come scheduling problems and a need for solutions, a nervous populace, and healthcare facilities in need of a way to quickly inform and manage their patient population. The right digital health communication tools can not only mitigate existing issues, but help facilitate a brisk recovery from this sudden structural snarl.
EMPOWER PATIENTS TO ACTIVELY MANAGE CARE
Empowered patients will self-manage in a crisis when armed with the appropriate tools to do so. Reducing roadblocks to back-and-forth communications with intuitive messaging that allow both sides to converse in real time can be a game-changer — even in the face of unexpected delays from severe weather.
Appointment management is paramount. For instance, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis aims to vaccinate 70% of the state’s age 70+ population by the end of the month. That goal is more daunting after this week’s shipment of vaccines was stalled by winter weather. Being able to quickly pivot and adapt requires a joint effort from providers and patients. Getting information out quickly and empowering consumers with self-rescheduling tools will help minimize a potential scheduling mess.
Automating delivery of text-based confirmations and reminders will also help limit the long-term impact of this week’s storms. But, what if there are no appointments available when a patient attempts to reschedule? An added option to be put on a waitlist takes the pressure off both sides, using smart scheduling to kick out notifications when a slot opens up. Patients receive a notification a new opportunity is available. A tap here, a tap there, and — boom — they are added to the line. This kind of on-demand self-service when juggling life’s shifting priorities is becoming the norm and expectation in healthcare.
Interactive communication with providers helps patients feel in control of their healthcare. They want to quickly dig out of the storm and reroute their path to vaccination. Ideally, this journey does not include ongoing back-and-forth phone calls, but instead easy-to-make adjustments while everyone does their best in a time of crisis. It can be done with the right outreach technology.
PROVIDE RELIEF THROUGH EFFICIENCY IMPROVEMENTS
How does a hospital provide relief for overwhelmed systems and overburdened staff? Balancing administrative needs, patient outreach, clinical care and IT management is difficult enough in a pandemic. It becomes almost insurmountable when a second catastrophic event hits. Smart communication platforms can alleviate some pressure by automating critical tasks, often through text-based outreach. Patients can turn to their phones to find new appointments, move an existing one or be added to a waitlist thanks to two-way SMS.
Broadcasting messages to let scheduled patients know a facility is closed due to weather conditions is far easier and more efficient than fielding a high volume of incoming queries or manually contacting every patient on the schedule. Following up with prompts and instructions for rescheduling appointments online also reduces overall labor costs. Sending automated text confirmations and reminders increases appointment throughput.
GETTING THERE TOGETHER
A large chunk of Texas spent much of the early portion of the week in the dark. A killer tornado swept through North Carolina. The Mid-Atlantic is waiting for snow and ice to hit the nation’s capital by the end of the week. Patients and providers will need to work together to counter another extreme situation. Digital touch points make it easier for both sides to work in unison.
The snow and ice will pass. A return to normal operations — such as it is in the pandemic — is around the corner. During and after this unexpected run in with mother nature, clear, two-way communications will help everyone get back on schedule so the fight against COVID-19 can continue.