As practices across the country begin to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to their patients and a pediatric vaccine is forthcoming, pediatricians will need to prepare to handle vaccination events that offer patients an efficient experience while balancing logistics such as billing, demographics, traffic flow, and vaccine storage. Learn how Bloom Pediatrics in Birmingham, MI made their first COVID-19 event a success, and how your practice can prepare for your own vaccination events to keep your community healthy.
Obtaining COVID-19 Vaccines
As of May 2021, practices or individual providers can sign up to participate in the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program by enrolling and agreeing to participate in ongoing training as more is understood about the vaccine. Independent practices should also contact their state’s Department of Health or their local equivalent to apply to offer vaccines.
Application to the Department of Health does not guarantee you will receive vaccines, but by applying, your practice will be available to receive them once the state determines it is safe to distribute beyond larger systems such as hospitals or pharmacies.
“Pediatricians are in the business of giving vaccines,” says Dr. Katie Schafer of Bloom Pediatrics, so when she received a call from the Michigan Department of Health and was offered over a thousand doses of COVID-19 vaccines to deliver in 2 weeks, she and her colleagues decided to accept the challenge.
“We wanted to be a part of the solution.”
Dr. Katie Schafer, Bloom Pediatrics, MI
Bloom Pediatrics knew that accepting the vaccines was a great chance to vaccinate their patients in a familiar setting, and they also had concerns that this could be their only chance at offering such an event. "I was afraid if we said no we'd go to the bottom of some list.” Dr. Schafer used PCC EHR to determine how many patients Bloom Pediatrics had eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently available for children and teens ages 12 and older (at the time Bloom signed up, it was for patients 16 and older.) Shortly after signing up and determining their eligible patients, they received 1170 doses of vaccine to distribute.
Receiving the vaccine was only the first step, however. Next, Dr. Schafer and her colleagues had to figure out how to get the word out and get enough people in the office to receive the doses.
Logistics of a Vaccine Clinic
Often, the most important aspects of a successful vaccination event is not the vaccination itself but the logistics of handling many patients in a limited amount of time and space. While each practice’s needs will be different, Dr. Schafer’s experience has led her to recommend that practices be prepared as much as they can ahead of time to make the process efficient. This will include staffing, the number of patients staff can accommodate, parking and traffic needs, and collecting demographics.
Scheduling, Parking, and Traffic
First, determine how many vaccines your staff will be able to deliver during an event. In order to keep Bloom Pediatrics running as a pediatric practice during the day, Dr. Schafer and her staff offered vaccines before and after the practice’s traditional office hours and limited the number of people to accommodate for their parking space. This way, patients were able to arrive before or after their workdays to receive their vaccines and did not disturb the practice’s regular activities.
You may also have the space and weather to offer an event outside in a parking lot or other space. If you decide to host an event large enough to fill your practice’s available parking, it may be worthwhile to designate a traffic pattern with signs that indicate exits, entrances, and pathways.
Getting the Word Out
After these items have been addressed, eligible patients will need to be notified of your event. Marketing your event via your website, broadcast messaging, social media, and news media are great ways to get the word out. In the notification, patients should have clear instructions on how to sign up for an appointment slot, whom to contact, and where to be on at the time of their vaccination appointment.
Bloom Pediatrics’ first move was to use PCC EHR to create a list to determine which of their existing patients were eligible for the vaccine. They sent out a Broadcast Message with a link to sign up for a vaccine appointment. Unexpectedly, their local news station caught on to the event, and posted a link to Blooms’ online schedule. After that, Bloom expanded their message to include all their patient families, and the slots were full within 2 hours.
Staffing & Morale
A mass vaccination event such as the ones that are necessary for COVID-19 vaccination require a huge effort on the part of a practice’s administration and clinical staff. In many cases, events are fast-paced and busy, and may require staff to work longer hours than they would normally do. This is why morale and incentivization are key to getting staff on board with the event.
“I'll tell you,” says Dr. Schafer, “The only way we could pull it off was the fact that my staff was absolutely amazing. They worked 435 hours over their 40 hour work week between everyone. That was just in the 2 weeks for the first doses. To be honest, most of them were wanting to take part, to be a part of the effort.”
Bloom Pediatrics also offered staff increased pay for shifts dedicated to the COVID-19 event, which helped increase morale, which was already high in the excitement of offering an important protection to their community.
Morale was also important for patients -- Bloom Pediatrics offered sno-cones, ice cream, balloon art, and played music to give the events a festive and positive atmosphere, something which Dr. Schafer says both her staff and patients appreciated.
Because a vaccination event can bring both adult patients and their children to a pediatric clinic, practices will need to collect, organize, and maintain demographics slightly differently. Depending on how many people sign up, it may be more efficient to collect demographics prior to the event, such as when the appointment is scheduled.
Many vaccination event patients will be in your system only temporarily, so a minimum of data is sufficient: date of birth, name, and insurance information. Bloom Pediatrics asked patients to send a photo of their insurance card and driver’s ID to an email address created specifically for their COVID-19 clinic. In order to keep their EHR organized between patients and non-patients, they used PCC EHR to add a “COVID-19” flag so that extraneous charts can be removed after billing is completed.
Dr. Schafer says the demographic collections are an added bonus -- Bloom Pediatrics will be able to offer many adult parents further care in the future if needed. “Amazingly, a lot of these were patients’ parents, and we want to give them flu vaccines in the autumn — to be honest, they're all set in our system so we could build a schedule in PCC so when they check in for the vaccine, we can bill it, and it’s seamless.”
Beyond the Vaccine Clinic
Asked if she would do anything differently during a second COVID-19 event, Dr. Schafer remarked that keeping a wait list of potential last minute vaccine patients was helpful to make sure every dose was used. She also wants to make the next clinic for second doses even faster: “We could run double the pace and do one week of vaccinations instead of two.”
Dr. Schafer also has plans to take COVID-19 doses to local high schools with a mobile unit. A fellow pediatrician has agreed to have her van decorated as the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine to continue Bloom’s theme of positivity and fun for these trips. The response to the fun and efficiency of Bloom Pediatrics’ vaccination clinic has been “110% positive.”
“We're trying to make it spread positivity,” she said. “It’s wonderful for morale.”
Planning ahead can help your practice prepare for a community-wide health event, whether its for vaccinations, well visits, or safety checks. Learn how you can expand your event to the parking lot or a local community space with our previous post, How to Open a Drive-Thru Flu Clinic.