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More than 180 million Americans have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The road to this public health milestone was rife with both operational challenges and rapid digital innovation. What patient access lessons has the industry learned from COVID-19 vaccine coordination? How can those innovations streamline access to vaccines, boosters, and other healthcare services in the new normal?

1. Leverage Online Scheduling That Matches Provider Supply with Consumer Demand

Since the vaccine was first made available, consumers have sought to schedule their COVID-19 vaccinations online–with mixed results.  A VeryWell survey found that 91% of consumers would choose to self-schedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointment if given the choice. However, an analysis of state vaccine websites found that only 50% enabled users to schedule their COVID-19 vaccination appointment online. 

Providers need more than a basic scheduling tool to coordinate COVID-19 vaccinations. In early 2021, surging consumer demand for the COVID-19 vaccine overwhelmed provider websites and scheduling systems, causing appointment shortages, website crashes, and long wait times. When demand isn’t matched with supply, patients and providers alike become frustrated by inefficiency and confusion.  

Healthcare organizations can avoid this disruption by using a robust scheduling tool that can handle the complexities of vaccine coordination, such as:

  • Replicating and automating intake provider protocols and scheduling rules. 
  • Enabling patients to schedule multi-dose vaccine appointments at the same time. 
  • Updating provider availability in real-time to ensure accurate scheduling. 
  • Matching patients with providers and care sites that have near-term availability. 

2. Proactively Communicate Where and How to Access Vaccines

Online scheduling for vaccine coordination is only effective when patients know where to access vaccines. The industry learned this lesson firsthand when eligible consumers struggled to find available vaccine appointments across a fragmented healthcare system, checking multiple websites and social media pages daily just to find an open time slot. 

Proactively engage patients to schedule their vaccinations by delivering digital messages across multiple channels, such as email, social media, and health system websites. Providers can take this strategy a step further by sending digital messages prompting patients to schedule their vaccination appointment. These messages can be targeted to specific populations and include an actionable scheduling link, ensuring vulnerable or underserved patients are empowered to book their vaccinations with little friction. 

3. Send Digital Reminders Before and After Their Visit

It’s already a challenge to ensure patients don’t become no-shows, but vaccine coordination often requires patients to show up twice.

A DrFirst survey found that 21% of consumers missed a second shot of a two-dose vaccine because they forgot about their appointment. The same survey found that 40% of consumers would be more likely to get their vaccines if they had received text message reminders ahead of their visit. 

Digital email and text reminders encourage patients to attend appointments and share crucial information related to attending their visit:

  • An actionable link to cancel or reschedule a visit so patients can update their appointment if necessary. 
  • Directions to the vaccination site and instructions related to intake procedures (ex. whether to wait in the car after check-in). 
  • Automated reminders for the second dose.
  • Survey links for wellness tracking after vaccination.  

4. Address SDOH to Enhance COVID-19 Vaccine Access

Social determinants of health (SDOH) have emerged as key barriers preventing consumers from accessing vaccines. Factors such as zip code, race, income, occupation, and age play a significant role in whether a consumer can successfully find or attend a vaccination appointment. For example, the Virginia Department of Health found that people living in urban areas are 16% more likely to have received their first COVID-19 vaccination than those in the rural areas.

Healthcare organizations should consider how these factors impact the patient journey and explore partnerships to ease COVID-19 vaccine coordination. Some approaches to addressing SDOH include partnering with rideshare companies to transport patients to vaccination sites, offering vaccination appointments outside of regular business hours to accommodate patient work schedules, or bringing mobile vaccination clinics directly to underserved areas.

Next Steps

Learn how to make COVID-19 scheduling seamless for patients and staff with DocASAP’s COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling and Engagement solution.

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