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Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy: The Key is in the Conversation
Elizabeth Stahl, MD – Regional Medical Director
What are the risks of getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Am I eligible for a booster? Do I need a flu shot? How safe is it to come into a doctor’s office? These are just some of the many questions patients are asking right now, highlighting how much confusion there is around the value and safety of preventive health care services.
Health care providers play an essential role in helping patients understand the reasons behind proactive health care and why these services are so critical. Given that flu season is here, and this year, families and loved ones will be anxious to gather for the holidays, there has never been a better time to reach out to patients and talk through how to stay safe and healthy. Not only can this conversation help reduce the risks associated with COVID-19, but it can also reemphasize the importance of preventive care.
A well-planned strategy yields the best results
Unfortunately, conversations around vaccines have become increasingly controversial. Due to the sensitive nature of these interactions, it is important to think through how to engage patients before reaching out. As a first step, providers should determine which of their patients have yet to receive a COVID-19 or flu vaccine. This may involve tapping care managers to gather data to pinpoint individuals with these types of care gaps.
Care managers can then assist providers in using this information to proactively connect with people in ways that resonate. If your practice has collected information about a patient’s preferred communication channel, then care managers should use that channel, if possible.
During the initial outreach, the provider can offer education about the benefits of vaccines, appropriate timing, answers to frequently asked questions and so forth. They can talk about the reasons for coming in for a wellness visit, the safety precautions the practice uses and what vaccinations and screenings may be needed. Within these conversations, it is important not to assume people who are not vaccinated do not want to be vaccinated. There may be other factors at play—including misinformation, lack of transportation and other social determinants of health. Conversations should involve asking open-ended questions to identify potential barriers. Based on a patient’s answers, the provider can offer clarity, suggest additional resources and affirm that the practice has the patient’s best interests in mind. By communicating these points with compassion and answering any lingering questions the patient might have, providers can build trust and demonstrate that the practice cares for the individual and their health.
Although the interaction may be somewhat informal, providers may want to have a script handy that outlines the most recent information on vaccines and preventive care, especially since recommendations keep evolving. This can include CDC information about boosters and how to safely gather for the holidays, as well as material on community resources that can help with transportation and other barriers that might be thwarting access.
Good communication requires a commitment
Connecting with patients outside of a care visit to answer their questions and encourage engagement requires time and resources. And while you can task internal staff for this effort, it can also help to work with a company that can create an outreach framework and partner with you to reach patients, overcome hesitancy and close care gaps. To learn more about CareAllies, go to CareAllies.com.