Texting to Improve Health Outcomes
During the COVID-19 pandemic, routine vaccination rates declined across all age groups. Special thanks to VaxCare Chief Medical Officer Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, and Chief Operations Officer Steven Sorrells, for this guest blog post on the successful use of text messages to increase influenza (flu) vaccination rates, even during a tough season.
At the start of the 2021-2022 flu season, vaccination rates across all recommended vaccines in the US stubbornly hovered at historic lows. We were seeing it firsthand at VaxCare, where we are able to track the daily number of vaccines administered by our practice partners (as we call our customers). The entire public health community was trying to figure out how to increase vaccination rates to protect more of the population—and it can be difficult for a busy practice to fit in flu vaccination outreach even when an office is running at its best. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in healthcare was running on fumes.
We knew we could help our partners by helping to get patients into offices to receive their annual flu vaccines. We were doing all we could to make sure our customers had vaccine inventory on hand, but our own patient-flow data, along with that of many others, showed us we needed to do more. This created an opportunity to test how we could use technology to help improve health outcomes.
Drawing from the findings of a study by Penn Medicine and Geisinger Health, we created two text outreach programs: Parents Welcome and Flu Outreach. The target audiences differed, but the methods (text messages sent on behalf of physicians with no additional work for staff) and outcomes (increased flu vaccination rates) were identical. The programs were as follows:
- Pediatric patients (under age 19 years) of pediatric and family medicine offices
- Text messages sent at the onset of the program and also at 72 and 24 hours prior to appointments encouraging parents and caregivers to get their own flu vaccine when their child receives theirs (process streamlined by mobile technology)
- 75 partners, 81 office locations across 27 states
- 16 percent higher parent flu vaccinations (compared with unenrolled offices)
- 315 percent higher child flu vaccinations (compared with unenrolled offices)
- Adult patients (age 19 years and older) of family and internal medicine offices
- Text messages sent to patients who had not received a flu vaccine at the onset of the program and also at 72 and 24 hours prior to appointments encouraging them to get a flu vaccine at that appointment
- 29 partners in 2 states (Georgia and Kentucky)
- Enrolled offices were 77 percent more likely to vaccinate patients against flu at appointments than unenrolled offices
- 32 percent of patients at enrolled offices received a flu vaccine at their appointment, compared with 18 percent of patients at unenrolled offices
These positive outcomes, especially during a challenging season due largely to COVID-19, invigorated our teams to go even bigger. We are excited to offer these programs again, and more like them, to our partners during the upcoming 2022-2023 respiratory season to help close care gaps.
The medical community, vaccine advocates, and public health professionals are all hoping to see great strides in improving vaccination rates during the coming flu season. We are thinking positively and acting energetically, while encouraging everyone age 6 months and older to get vaccinated each year to help #FightFlu!
Show Your Support for Flu Vaccination
Organizations can join the NFID Leading By Example initiative to make a public commitment to flu prevention.
- Share flu vaccination photo(s) on social media using the hashtags #FightFlu and #LeadingByExample
- Download a #FightFlu paddle for the photo and be sure to tag @NFIDvaccines, to be featured on the NFID website and in social media posts
To join the conversation and get the latest news on infectious diseases, follow NFID (@NFIDvaccines) and Wanda Filer (@Drwandafiler) on Twitter using the hashtag #FightFlu, like NFID on Facebook, follow NFID on Instagram, visit NFID on LinkedIn, and subscribe to receive future NFID Updates.