Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has begun, and states across the country have already started vaccinating certain patient populations. Exactly who is qualified to receive the vaccine, and when, will be determined by a combination of factors such as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, state guidelines, supply chain availability, and more. Is your health system ready with an effective patient engagement strategy for your COVID-19 vaccine program?
Here are six areas of communication that can help your health system prepare for what's coming, including emerging best practices that you can put into place today.
Like most things, Americans' views about a COVID-19 vaccine are varied. Some groups are eager for a vaccine while others are cautious. A new survey from Pew Research indicates that "Overall, 60% of Americans say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine for the coronavirus, if one were available today, up from 51% who said this in September." Managing a multitude of views and a complex array of logistics around new vaccine programs, healthcare marketers must take the lead on patient education. The CDC's patient playbook reminds providers to "start from a place of empathy and understanding." Acknowledge the disruption COVID-19 has caused in all our lives and recognize common concerns that can be addressed by a vaccine.
Be sure to offer clear information that reassures patients covering topics such as what you can expect as a patient, here's how we'll keep you safe, and more. And while working to carefully craft messaging, don't forget your social media presence. Responding to comments and dispelling disinformation can help maintain your health system's authority and reputation. Consider this: An Accenture study released in May 2020 indicated that patient trust and belief in healthcare providers increased by 60% as a result of COVID-19. Retain that status as patients' trusted voice of truth by educating them early and often with proactive communication—across all channels.
Best practice: Find multiple ways to answer questions and inform patients about key vaccine information and to help navigate the phases of distribution. Establish dedicated hotlines to answer vaccine-related questions and implement vaccine FAQ chat services.
It's important to start COVID-19 vaccine conversations early—even if you don't have all the answers yet. Engage patients by sharing what to expect and what you recommend, then begin gathering their questions and concerns. This will strengthen your communication plans—and your patient relationships. Risk-stratify your patient population based on phases as designated by your state and CDC guidelines. Determine who might be targeted to receive the vaccine first. Then prepare your communications accordingly setting expectations about vaccine availability, including when you might recommend vaccination for various patient groups.
Best practice: Screen patients online or by phone and begin to identify patients who qualify to receive the vaccine during each phase of the rollout. Send proactive vaccine and scheduling information to higher risk patients and front-line staff based on state guidelines.
When you're able to reliably predict the availability and administration of the vaccine, start promoting it. Be sure to let patients know details, why it's important to be vaccinated, and instructions on how to schedule appointments online or by phone. Your strong vaccine recommendation and clear instructions matter as well as providing an easy way to schedule.
Best practice: Use broadcast messaging to announce vaccine availability—targeting patient groups who are ready to schedule their appointments.
Begin scheduling vaccine appointments using live voice and online scheduling to reduce the amount of time spent waiting in line at vaccine clinics. Streamline the process by providing detailed appointment instructions during scheduling confirmations. Self-scheduling can help manage and optimize the number of appointments booked, fill empty appointment slots, and ensure you vaccinate as many people as possible.
Best practice: Set up digital and live voice scheduling to book first and second dose vaccination appointments (if required by the vaccine manufacturer). Don't forget that internal staff can also use your self-scheduling system.
Once scheduled, remind patients of their appointments. Let patients know if they should wait in their car until their vaccine appointment or check-in on their mobile device. It's important that patients prioritize and attend their vaccine appointments—especially with the likelihood of a limited supply of vaccines. And since some vaccine regimens will require multiple doses or boosters, build a communication plan that accommodates multiple appointments and reminders.
Best practice: Send staff and patients reminders of their scheduled appointments via text, email, and outbound IVR. Also, don't forget to text arrival and social distancing instructions before each vaccination appointment—and to come back for their second dose of the vaccine and potential booster shots if required.
Be sure to follow up with recently vaccinated patients to find out how they're responding to the vaccine as well as to monitor patient well-being. Be prepared with clinically-savvy professionals who can offer help if patients are experiencing any adverse symptoms or reactions—and escalate their calls if care is needed.
Best practice: Conduct post-vaccine follow-up for staff and patients, triage adverse reactions, and book follow-up or referral appointments if needed.
At Stericycle, our clients are preparing their vaccination promotion, scheduling, and reminder programs based on recent updates from vaccine manufacturers—and we're busy helping them put all of these best practices into place. To learn more about how we can help with vaccine readiness and support your vaccine management program, click here.