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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vaccination Programs: Giving Medical Practices a Shot in the Arm

With flu season fast-approaching, now is a perfect time for physicians' practices to evaluate their vaccination offerings. In spite of the fact that the United States has the world’s most effective vaccine system, recent statistics released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) show that less than 70 percent of children receive all recommended vaccines.

Many of your patients may ask why shots are still recommended for diseases that we don’t hear much about, but the fact is vaccines prevent about 14 million infections and save 30,000 lives per year. Maintaining up-to-date records on your patients and matching the information to current vaccination recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control can open up opportunities to improve the health of your patients and boost the practice’s bottom line.

As a physician, you know that if patients stop getting the protection that comes with vaccines and booster shots, more people will become infected with diseases. In the US, on average between five percent and 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications each year.

Despite the advances in technology and development of both children’s and adult vaccines, medical practices have seen a general decline in the volume of vaccinations. Not only are some parents misinformed about the safety of vaccines but competition from non-traditional providers such as chain drug stores, grocery, and big-box retail pharmacies have lured patients with low prices and convenience.

To respond to this, physicians' practices need to make it as convenient and affordable for patients to get vaccinated whether it’s a seasonal flu shot, pneumonia, shingles, or other disease. This can include proactively reminding patients when they are due for a vaccination at the point of care, or through phone call or e-mail reminders. Equally important, physicians must ensure that they have a proper supply of vaccines and a variety of delivery methods to treat all types of patients.

In the past, shortages of some vaccines have been a concern. However, medical practices that work with group purchasing organizations (GPOs) may not realize that they are at an advantage in respects to vaccine cost and supply. A GPO can help practices solve vaccine cost and supply issues by offering access to contracts with multiple manufacturers which ensures availability and best pricing. Many also offer electronic ordering and direct-to-practice fulfillment which reduces the time from when an order is placed to when it is delivered.

If your practice is already working with a GPO, be sure to check their vaccination portfolio and resources and see what they offer. For practices not working with a GPO, here are some important questions to ask:
• Is the contract portfolio broad? Does it include a number of leading vaccine suppliers?
• Does the contract assure “best pricing” to deliver the needed vaccines at the lowest available cost?
• Do the contracts with suppliers offer the latest vaccination technology and delivery?

Take a fresh look at your practice’s vaccination program and see if there are opportunities to increase rates.

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The CDC offers these tips to increase vaccination rates.
• Create a standing order in the practice that stipulates all patients meeting certain criteria should be vaccinated. Educate all practice staff on the existence and content of the standing order.
• Create a computerized patient record reminder that alerts practice staff when a patient is due for a vaccination.
• Flag the patient’s chart with a color-coded vaccination reminder for the physician to see prior to visiting with the patient.
• Create and implement a direct mail reminder program and telephone follow-up for patient vaccinations. An approved script for staff to use for telephone follow-up assures that the patient receives accurate, consistent information about vaccines from your practice.
• Provide an influenza vaccine information statement that can be handed to patients with their personal information forms to be updated upon check-in at your practice. The statement should present the facts about the vaccine, what it is for, and recommended vaccination schedule. Patients should be asked to indicate if they fall into any high-risk groups and they should be able to opt in or out of having the vaccine. The information statement also provides the physician with an opportunity to have a personal dialog with the patient about influenza and the important role vaccination plays in preventing the disease.
• Prepare a personal health record (PHR) for every patient outlining an individually-tailored preventive care schedule, including recommended times to receive vaccinations. Wallet card size PHRs are popular patient practice takeaways.

Dena Kitchens is senior director of physician services at Provista, a leading supply chain improvement company based in Irving, Texas. E-mail her here.


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