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flu vaccine surge

Get ready for the flu season

In looking ahead to how Ireland can effectively handle two respiratory viruses, NPHET has recommended we vaccinate against flu in more significant numbers than any previous year. In this article, our CTO Ken Corcoran outlines how your website can help you deal with increased demand this year. This article was published in the IPU Review July/August 2020 edition. 

Dealing with Covid-19 and flu concurrently in winter 2020 poses a more significant challenge for the health system and in particular community pharmacy than ever before. In response to calls to extend the seasonal influenza vaccination programme, the Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that children aged two to twelve years are to receive the flu vaccine free of charge. Also, any person aged 6 months to 69 years and in an “at-risk” group will receive the vaccine free of charge. Over 70’s were already free of charge. While this falls short of making Ireland the first country in Europe to recommend flu vaccination for everyone over the age of 6 months, as advocated by the IPU, it is a step in the right direction and is to be welcomed.

How Community Pharmacy has Responded

Over the last number of years, the percentage of flu vaccinations administered by community pharmacies has been growing steadily. In the last flu season 2019/2020, community pharmacy accounted for 16.5% of vaccinations countrywide. The 1000+ pharmacies that offer the service are going to be a key component of fulfilling the flu vaccination strategy announced by Simon Harris.

The Impact of Higher Demand on Your Workflow

With the possibility of a resurgence of Covid-19, the Government will ensure public awareness of the flu vaccine is at an all-time high, meaning a large increase in vaccinations across pharmacies is certain. This will result in a challenging set of circumstances for community pharmacies. Pharmacies will see a significant increase over previous years in patients seeking the flu vaccine. 

Social distancing and limitations on face-to-face patient contact are measures that will be required for some time to come. Pharmacies need to plan for increased numbers of people coming to the pharmacy for a consultation and flu vaccination while maintaining the necessary procedures to minimise the spread of Covid-19. This means appointments for vaccination need to be appropriately staggered to ensure that time spent in the pharmacy is carefully managed. It will be important to ensure patients don’t overlap and come into contact with each other while waiting to be seen by the pharmacist.

 

Manning the phones has already become a full-time job in the “new norm” and adding appointment booking to this communication channel will add a significant burden to already busy staff in many cases. When you consider the need to provide relevant information to the patient about the vaccination, the need to determine the vaccine’s suitability for the patient, and obtain consent, then the complications due to Covid-19 restrictions become more evident.

Planning for a Successful Flu Season

There are, however, relatively simple things a pharmacy can do to alleviate these issues, but they do require preparation and planning in advance of flu season. 

The main points pharmacies need to plan for are:

  1. Schedule staggered appointments to allow for adequate treatment times and waiting periods

  2. Provide clear information on available time slots for vaccinations

  3. Provide information about who the vaccine is recommended for

  4. Provide information about who the vaccine is not recommended for

  5. Remotely capture personal information and medical history from the patient

  6. Record and store the vaccination details on-site.

  7. Offer the patient an opportunity to speak to the pharmacist administering the vaccine in advance, without visiting the pharmacy

  8. Obtain consent from the patient acknowledging they understand the benefits and risks of the vaccine as well as the risks of influenza. Also, the patient needs to acknowledge that they understand the possible side effects of the vaccine, when they might occur, and how they should be treated.

Your Website can Help

While existing processes may have been able to cope with the demand of previous flu seasons, trying to complete the above tasks over the phone or in-person could cause significant issues for staff and patients in winter 2020. Many of the tasks above should be completed remotely, if possible, and through the pharmacy’s website. 

A pharmacy website is an important tool for a community pharmacy to provide information about their services. It’s an ideal mechanism for disseminating information about the flu vaccine and for obtaining the necessary consent.

The website can be broken into three main areas:

  1. The static website content, which is informational in nature

  2. The consultation booking system

  3. The consent form

 

1. Static Website Content

Static website content for flu vaccinations should have its own page on the pharmacy website and will change infrequently. It should be easily accessible from the Home Page and should, at a minimum, contain the sections outlined in the checklist below. Use this checklist for a discussion with your web developer:

  • A description of the Winter Flu Vaccination service provided by the pharmacy including when it is available i.e. September to April

  • A detailed description of eligibility outlined below.

 
Who should get the flu vaccine?

While everyone should consider getting a flu vaccine, it is especially important that the following groups get vaccinated:

  • Persons aged 65 and over

  • Those with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, heart or lung disease

  • People whose immune system is impaired due to disease or treatment

  • Persons with Down syndrome

  • Persons with a body mass index (BMI) over 40

  • Pregnant women

  • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions

  • Healthcare workers

  • Carers

  • People with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs

 
 A simple step-by-step overview of the process from the patient’s perspective:
  • Read the information about the flu vaccine online
  • Complete the online consent form
  • Book your appointment
  • Go to the pharmacy at the appointed time for the vaccination where you can discuss any concerns with the pharmacist

Information available on the website should:

  • Explain why getting the vaccine is important for preventing the spread of flu. And why this flu season, it’s more important than ever with Covid-19 also a threat.

  • Explain what protection the vaccine provides.

  • Explain how long the visit takes

  • Outline which cohorts get the vaccination free of charge

  • Detail the price for the private vaccination

 

 A simple step-by-step overview of the process from a patient’s perspective:

  • Read the information about the flu vaccine online
  • Complete the online consent form
  • Book your appointment
  • Go to the pharmacy at the appointed time for the vaccination where you can discuss any concerns with the pharmacist

Information available on the website should:

  • Explain why getting the vaccine is important for preventing the spread of flu. And why this flu season, it’s more important than ever with Covid-19 also a threat.

  • Explain what protection the vaccine provides.

  • Explain how long the visit takes

  • Outline which cohorts get the vaccination free of charge

  • Detail the price for the private vaccination 

2. Consultation Booking System

Overview of important booking system features

When implementing a booking system, the main features to look for are:

  1. It integrates with your website and fits well with your branding
  2. It has reminders for patients to reduce no-shows
  3. It has the ability to customise the booking form and add fields like Consultation Type
  4. Cancel/reschedule functionality with notifications for the pharmacist
  5. It has ability to set a schedule showing pharmacist availability and with appropriate time buffers between time slots
  6. It supports payment options 
  7. It is GDPR compliant

Costs/pricing models

Most booking systems charge on a per-seat basis, meaning adding additional pharmacists/staff increases the cost. They also provide tiers of functionality with increasing cost. The basic product may be good for limited usage but useful features are often only available in higher price plans, such as customisable reminders. They may also have additional fees for using in healthcare settings. Check out their privacy policies, whether they are GDPR compliant, and if compliance only applies to Premium Tiers.

Candidate booking systems

There are a variety of booking systems on the market that may address the requirements above. However, many of the companies providing these tools are not Irish based or E.U based, making it difficult to ascertain if use of these services can be made GDPR compliant.

Video consultations

Video consultations could be an important feature of your booking system. If a patient can have a scheduled video call before visiting the pharmacy to discuss eligibility or concerns about the vaccine itself, it would speed up the process of the in-pharmacy consultation. It would also prevent any unnecessary visits and reduce interruptions for pharmacists if relying on unscheduled phone calls to address queries.  Talk to Refill Assistant about their upcoming pharmacy video consult feature. It contains an integrated booking system which is targeted specifically at secure pharmacy consultations.

 

Although video call applications have exploded in popularity in the last few months, it is not recommended to use popular consumer tools like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, etc. for patient interactions, even if they integrate with a compliant booking system. They are ideal for Business or Personal use, but they lack website or app integrations and have a slew of privacy concerns and much publicised security issues. Even in these challenging times, it’s essential to take privacy and security seriously.

Refill Assistant has an upcoming pharmacy video consult feature. It contains an integrated booking system which is targeted specifically at secure pharmacy consultations.

3. The Consent Form

The Pharmacy Influenza Vaccination Patient Consent Form can be tailored to reflect the pharmacy processes. 

You can publish the form on your website, along with clear instructions on what the patient should do with it.

Typically, the consent form covers personal details (patient), medical history (patient), vaccination details (pharmacy) and consent (patient), with various fields for each section.. 

It is possible to use secure online services for form filling and consent gathering in advance, as well as to e-sign the document. When discussing with your web developer, check if

  1. the forms being implemented support e-signing

  2. the forms can be converted to PDF, with an additional “Pharmacy Only” section added

  3. the form service is GDPR compliant, and suitable for healthcare data.

Talk to your website developer about how to securely integrate any online forms into your pharmacy’s processes.

New Pharmacy Services Booking Engine

We are currently developing a Flu and Pharmacy Services booking engine (for your website). PSI and IPU vaccination guidelines are being used. The booking engine will help to minimise face-to-face contact by letting patients schedule appointments and consent to the vaccine online. It can be used on any website by copying/pasting a piece of software code. It will be released in advance of the flu season. If you would like to stay informed about progress, please click the button over.

For more information on any of these topics or to get in touch simply click above

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