This year, vaccinations for the seasonal flu will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many patients are reluctant to visiting caregivers right now, but those worries should not stop anyone from getting their seasonal flu vaccinations. Fortunately, you as a healthcare provider can make their much-needed visits safe. Here I will explain more about how you can create a safe patient flow for flu vaccinations.
First, let me provide some background. Healthcare authorities are reporting that preventive care has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations like WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advise preventive vaccinations even during these times, as they are very important for the population’s wellbeing in many aspects. One of the most important pieces, as the flu season approaches, is getting a flu vaccine. If people don’t get the yearly flu shot they would otherwise have had, that can cause a strain to the healthcare system.
One of the main objectives for preventive care during the pandemic is to keep patients and staff safe. WHO recommends vaccinations as long as they can be performed in a safe way. The challenge for care providers is not only keeping patients safe, but just as important, making sure patients feel safe. After all, if they don’t feel safe then they are more reluctant to get this type of care.
Another challenge is attending to this many people who have not had care or have put off care. And to avoid crowded lobbies during the pandemic. But this year, with the current conditions, we are getting a little bit more creative. Besides the familiar flu vaccination locations of primary care clinics, pharmacies and grocery stores, arrangements are being made for alternatives such as curbside drive-up vaccinations, at community centers, at churches, etc. So, vaccinations this year will look different from previous years. For this to work requires a lot of planning and a lot of communication with patients, so they know where to go, they know how to get treated and that they remain safe.
Patient flow management – 3 important steps for vaccination providers
Given these prerequisites, there are three main things to work on to manage the patient flow in a way that keeps patients safe, and also makes them feel safe:
Prevent crowding of lobbies
Enable social distancing
Communicate with patients
Here is how this can be accomplished:
Avoid crowding in lobbies with appointment scheduling
Offering the patient the option to schedule an appointment for their vaccination is the most critical part of creating a safe patient flow. With an appointment booking system, you can manage the patient flow and keep it constant throughout the day by making slots available that match your capacity to provide service. This means you can avoid peaks in visits and prevent a rush of crowds into the lobby and other waiting areas. It also enables better planning around your work force availability and supplies.
Enable social distancing with virtual queuing
Once the patient arrives, there is a need to make sure they can continue to practice social distancing while waiting for their turn. This can be addressed by giving people a virtual ticket, also called a mobile ticket. It is a ticket the patient gets on their phone, either through self-check-in of their appointment, by scanning a QR code outside your premises, or from a staff member inside or outside of your premises. With this mobile ticket capability, patients can choose the service they need, see where they are in line and they can also enter their mobile number to get a text message when it is their turn. So now that crowd in the lobby is dispersed because patients can wait where it is safe. For example, outside of the building or in their car, and keep safe social distance.
Make patients feel safe through communication
Coming back to the start, it is not only a matter of keeping patients safe, but also making them feel safe. The best way to make patients feel at ease and secure is through communication. Provide the patient with information ahead of their visit so they are well prepared. Via text messages or email you can share information about things like where to go when they arrive, how to announce their arrival and so on. This makes them feel well taken care of and avoids unnecessary contact with staff and other patients.
Since your lobby may be almost empty as patients wait remotely after they arrive, there is an extra need to communicate with them at this point as well. An important part of providing the best possible patient experience is a sense of fairness. You do not want patients to feel they are waiting too long, not being treated in order, or being served in any way unfairly. That is disastrous for patient experience. So that communication from the provider to the patient to let them know how they are being handled, where they are in queue, when they are being called, is really vital. This can be done via text messages, mobile tickets and digital signage within the patient flow management system.
Safe patient flow overview
To summarize, the image below provides an overview of what a safe patient flow for vaccinations could look like. As you can see it contains several options for appointment scheduling and check-in so that all patients, whether they are comfortable with technology or not, can get access to vaccinations in a safe way.
If you want to learn more about how you can manage your patient flow and make it safe for patients and staff, download this Patient Flow Management Guide for free and get access to in-depth knowledge in the subject.