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MANAGING PATIENTS

How to proactively communicate COVID-19 FAQs to patients

By Lisa A. Eramo bio

COVID-19 has forced medical practices nationwide to embrace change as well as rethink workflows and care delivery. Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available, practice managers have even more to ponder—particularly how to communicate with patients about vaccine-related FAQs.

Only 46% of respondents to a recent survey said they plan to get the vaccine. Many questions remain for those who aren’t sure or who definitely don’t plan to take it, and providers must be well-positioned to instill and build confidence. They must also be prepared to answer logistical questions such as how and when to make an appointment for the vaccine.

Providing critical information all in one place helps avoid tying up the practice’s phone lines or generating a large number of email messages through the patient portal. When thinking about vaccine-related FAQs, consider the following topics:

How the COVID-19 vaccine works

Provide a high-level primer on the vaccine—what it’s for, benefits, and how it works—specifically how messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines work. Your practice could also provide links to fact sheets about each vaccine.

Distribution

When and how will the medical practice receive the vaccine? A simple explanation will suffice. For example, ‘Our state is distributing vaccines to our county health departments which will, in turn, are distribute to our hospitals. Our practice is receiving the vaccine directly from XZY hospital starting on ____.’ Let patients know specifically which of the two currently FDA-approved vaccines you anticipate distributing, or whether you anticipate distributing both.

Who is eligible and when

Provide links to your state health department’s website for more specific details. You will also need to decide whether and how your practice will use the patient portal to notify patients that they are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Administration

How are patients be able to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine? Do you permit online scheduling? A dedicated phone line? A separate line for individuals in priority occupations? Do you keep a waiting list of patients in the event of vaccine shortages? Also, how will the practice ensure that patients who receive the initial dose are scheduled for the second dose as well?

Questions

Is there a number that patients can call? For example, a hotline with pre-recorded information about commonly-asked questions? Be sure to update this information regularly and also provide these details on the practice’s website.

Trusted resources

Be prepared to point patients toward reputable resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), and steer them away from myths and misinformation.

Other pointers

There are several other ways in which medical practices can prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine. Consider the following:

Brush up on COVID-related communication strategies. The CDC provides several helpful pointers to assist practices in engaging in effective COVID-19 vaccine-related conversations with patients. The CDC also provides a PDF of quick answers for healthcare professionals to common questions people may ask about the COVID-19 vaccine as well as a COVID-19 vaccination communication toolkit that can help medical practices develop communication strategies.

Update information regularly. It doesn’t hurt to include a ‘last updated on’ time stamp on any information materials or websites so patients know that everything is still relevant and that your practice is taking steps to remain vigilant.

Think about language barriers. Provide resources in multiple languages or have interpreters ready to translate and answer questions. Social determinants of health should be part of your practice’s overall COVID-19-related patient communication strategy.

Look at other medical practice websites. A quick Google search yields a whole host of examples that illustrate how practices nationwide are tackling this topic. What questions are they addressing and how? Gain ideas in terms of proactively providing accurate information.

 


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