Inspiring IT Action to Improve Flu-Season Outcomes
By Sara Johnston
The busy cold and flu season can be a challenging time for physicians inundated by patients with coughs, colds, and fevers – not to mention the calls, questions, and scheduling demands associated with them. The added interactions can cause delays to the appointment schedule and result in unhappy patients left waiting for appointments longer than necessary all the while increasing the chances of potential exposure to viruses lurking in the waiting room. To help alleviate this burden, physician practices should consider using a point-of-care education strategy to deliver flu vaccine information. In so doing, they can reduce the headaches and burdens associated with flu season and inspire healthy actions to improve outcomes, while at the same time improving the patient experience, enhancing patient loyalty, and increasing practice profitability.
POC education leverages the moment that healthcare is top-of-mind with patients – as they are waiting to see their provider – to deliver health-related messaging. Messaging can be delivered via print or digital channels; in the waiting room or exam room; and typically takes the form of video loops on a television monitor, tablet-based interactive modules, print brochures, or wall panels. Individual practices typically tailor the offering with messages specific to their practice.
For physicians, there are many benefits to educating their patients on the flu vaccine. Having higher rates of vaccination among their patient base means that patients are less likely to get sick with the flu. The vaccine also can be an important preventive tool for patients with other chronic health conditions, and can help reduce hospitalizations. At the same time, by increasing the number of vaccinated patients, physicians are less likely to experience interrupted workflows and additional winter scheduling pressures, since fewer patients will require emergency sick appointments for unexpected flu visits. Practice productivity can increase, as the burden of remembering to remind patients about flu vaccines and other practice announcements can be incorporated into the POC offering.
Action Leads to Positive Outcomes
When patients are engaged at the point of care, they are more likely to be inquisitive about their health and to discuss treatments with their physicians. In partnership with 15 practices running flu education campaigns, AccentHealth recently conducted interviews with a research firm to assess patient behavior in response to POC messaging. The study showed that patients who were exposed to flu-specific POC messaging were 68 percent more likely to discuss the vaccine with their doctor that day, and patients who typically do not vaccinate were 8.6 times more likely, compared to those who were not exposed to the messaging.
What’s more, recall rates were quite high and patients appreciated receiving the information while in the waiting room. A large majority of patients found the flu information helpful, relevant and effective. Not only did the POC messaging lead to more interest and discussion with their healthcare providers, patients exposed to messaging were ready to take action. The discussions that day led to significantly more doctor recommendations for the vaccine compared to patients not exposed to the flu-specific POC messaging; a number of patients received the vaccine that day or planned to shortly thereafter.
When patients recalled the flu messaging at the point of care, they were more likely to feel cared for by their physician, with 80 percent noting that the messaging reflected positively on the doctor’s office. The degree to which patients valued the information is reflected in the fact that not only did they initiate conversations with doctors, but they were also 87 percent more likely to recommend the flu vaccine to their friends compared to those who did not see the messaging.
The survey confirmed that patients view the physician’s office as their top source of information for flu and flu vaccines – more so than Internet-based information, print media, advertising, family, and friends. This includes not only conversations with their healthcare provider but also the information available in the doctor’s waiting room.
Increasing Practice Profitability
Providing flu education at the point of care can add to a practice’s profitability. Research shows that patients influenced to take action typically do not plan to receive the flu vaccine at another location. Flu vaccines administered at the practice can augment practice income, sometimes providing a significant portion of the overall revenue.
In short, POC flu education can be an effective tool for physicians looking to improve patient outcomes, create office efficiencies, and generate additional revenue for the practice. By educating on flu vaccines, physician practices can improve the patient experience, create greater loyalties, and help patients feel greater care.
Sara Johnston is senior manager, Insights and Analytics, at AccentHealth in New York City.