practice management

How to Open a Drive Thru Flu Clinic at a Pediatric Practice

Drive-thru clinics are more than an excellent strategy to get your patients their annual flu shots; they’re also opportunities for your office to get patients up to date on preventive care, keep an eye on population health, and make a splash in your community. Whether you’re ready to announce your first drive thru clinic or you want to know how to improve, here are some strategies for an efficient, safe clinic.

Preparations & Permissions

The more prepared you and your staff are for the first drive-thru clinic of the year, the better. Your first plans should revolve around your location.

Location

Your clinic location should have enough space for multiple car lanes if necessary, and ideally should have access to a separate entrance and exit so that the drive-thru can operate as a one-way route. If you choose to use your office’s parking lot, be sure to give notice and to confirm permission with your landlord if applicable and with your insurer. In most cases, your general liability insurance extends to the parking lot, but double check to be sure.

Signs & Directions

Upon entering the clinic area, drivers should be able to see clearly where they’re supposed to be. Traffic cones and signs are useful investments, especially if you plan to make drive-thru clinics a regular occurance. Keep in mind that the flow of traffic should include a separate spot away from traffic, perhaps an area of parking spaces or a tent, for patients to receive follow up care if necessary.

Large, clear signs can also help patients to prepare themselves for care -- loosening clothing or preparing documentation, for example. The better you can prepare your families for what will happen, the more efficient the flow of traffic will be.

Promotion

After your preparations are complete, it’s time to get the word out! Whether you favor social media, email, or a tool like PCC’s Broadcast Messaging, give your families enough time to plan on attending your clinic, or to sign up for specific days (for more information on scheduling, see Scheduling & Staff below). If you want to encourage attendance, you can consider holding a raffle, giving away door prizes, or working with a local business to offer a discount or free service for families who attend your clinic.

Your office will be able to put its best foot forward if your staff are also prepped and ready. If your practice is new to drive-thru clinics, celebrate a successful first run in a way that suits your practice. If appropriate, delegate or become a champion for the drive-thru -- your champion will be responsible for seeing to the details of the clinic, motivating their colleagues, and making sure everyone remains on the same page.

Safety & COVID-19 Considerations

While you’ll always have clinical considerations to account for, the number one priority for a safe drive-thru clinic is traffic safety. You will also want extra precautions to protect staff and patients from spreading or contracting COVID-19. Safety tips for drive-thru clinics include:

  • Sufficient PPE and sanitizing procedures, the same as you would use indoors.
  • Patients and drivers should remain in their vehicle at all times.
  • Staff should approach the vehicle only after it is in the parked position.
  • Vehicles should have visual aids to remain a safe distance apart; e.g., traffic cones or signs.
  • Patients should remain safely buckled into their car seats unless unbuckling is required for the vaccination or exam. 
  • Where appropriate, encourage parents to join the child in the backseat for reassurance after the car is safely parked.
  • Have a safety plan in place. Some examples include a pop-up tent for inclement weather, a plan for uncooperative patients, overflow parking to prevent overcrowding or traffic jams, and a plan for medical emergencies, up to and including dialing 911.

COVID-19 considerations for your practice will vary depending on your locale. A basic comprehensive plan might include logging the temperatures of everyone in the vehicle, pre-visit screening for symptoms. You could also choose to take further precautions you see as most practical to maintain the safety of your patients and staff: you might restrict the clinic to registration only instead of accepting walk-ins, require all attendees to wear masks, affirm they have no symptoms, or confirm no one in the household has traveled in the last 14 days.

Essential Pre-Visit Plans, Materials

The pre-visit documentation is the key to a successful clinic, and choosing the right materials will also set you up for efficiency and ease. If you choose to require registration for the event, collecting pre-visit documentation can be fairly straightforward with a program such as Jotform, which is HIPAA-compliant. You can also collect this information at the time of service as patients “check in” to the clinic. Some practices use different stickers on these forms, carried from the patient vehicle to the clinicians, to indicate which vaccine(s) the physician or nurse should be giving.

Documentation would need to include a medical history for non-patients (such as parents or caregivers receiving a flu shot), confirmation of demographics, insurance, and medications. Helpful handouts for adult and pediatric vaccine history, Vaccine Information Statements (which are required by law) and info sheets are available via the Immunization Action Coalition, a 501 (c) 3 organization supported by the CDC.

Materials

2D scanners can facilitate accurate records of the vaccine lots and numbers you’re giving patients. Check out this post to learn more about 2D scanners for your practice. Other materials may include a tent to stage the clinic and to deal with any inclement weather, a table for administration, signs and traffic cones, a cart for supplies, PPE and appropriate disposal areas, and laminated vaccine information for parents and patients. Some practices find the addition of colored stickers or markers help in documentation by creating a visual aid to connect the correct vaccine to the correct patient, and a wifi hotspot helps mitigate any lapse in connectivity while they’re outside.

You’ll also need to consider the vaccine cold chain. Maintain the cold chain by using the CDC’s recommended strategies, which include vaccine fridges most ideally and chest coolers with an internal temperature reading as a second option.

Scheduling & Staff

Who can perform the tasks required at a drive-thru clinic? In your state, a medical assistant may be authorized to perform the clinical care, but in most cases, a nurse or physician will be the one to treat drive-thru patients. You know your staff and colleagues best, so make sure to schedule enough people to cover the clinic’s open hours while allowing for breaks and assistance outside or in the office, if necessary.

A great indicator of how many staff members to have available and how many vaccines to order is to get a read on how many patients are due to arrive during the clinic. The easiest way to do this is to require all patients to pre-register. If you decide to accept walk-ins, keep an eye on your promotions and get a feel for how excited parents are when you see them in the office. Alternatively, if you choose to do more than one clinic, you can gauge the amount of interest and activity during the first clinic and adjust accordingly.

When should you schedule your clinics? The best times for most parents are probably weekends, but you could also plan well in advance for a date such as Columbus Day weekend, a holiday on a Monday when families do not usually travel.

Keeping track of your clinic schedule is important. PCC users can use the Appointment Book to schedule multiple appointments in a block to indicate clinic visits. Another HIPAA-compliant scheduling app is Full Slate.

Post-Clinic Review & Further Resources

There are so many variables in a drive-thru clinic that are different from how you’re used to handling patient care inside the office. This is why careful preparation, while important, won’t tell you everything you need to know about drive-thru clinics. In fact, you can learn crucial information by studying how you did after the fact. Don’t forget to consult other practices -- their experiences are incredibly useful for fledgling clinics, too.

You can learn how to change your drive-thru clinic to suit patients and staff by offering questionnaires immediately after the visit, sending surveys to registered patients a week or so after the clinic, or by asking parents and staff directly about their experiences. Should you order more vaccines? Was the flow of traffic too fast for your staff or too slow for patients? How stressful or pleasant was the visit for everyone? These are some of the questions you can start asking in order to make your next drive-thru clinic a resounding success.

Further resources you may find useful as you prepare for your clinic include the CDC’s resources for hosting a vaccination clinic and the AAP’s resources on flu for 2020-2021 -- there is no preference for shots or nasal sprays for this season.

Want to see how it's done? East Portland Pediatric Clinic, PC of Portland, Oregon made an incredible video to showcase to families exactly what to expect at their drive thru clinic. They showcase a map of exactly where to go, what to wear, the importance of masks, and even use PCC's patient portal to encourage online scheduling! Check out the video below:

As you begin your preparations, don’t forget a last, crucial point: the success of a drive-thru clinic depends on the support and cooperation of your colleagues and staff. Together, you can prepare your community for flu season, help your patients remain up to date with their preventive healthcare, and even create a day where your practice gets a spotlight on the caring, dedicated work you do!

If you’d like to learn more about building the team that will help accomplish your practice goals, check out Tim Rushford’s webinar, Hiring the Right People. In it, he covers interview strategies and assessment tools to help you build the perfect pediatric team.

Watch the Webinar

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and a transplant from upstate New York. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.