Scheduling vendors say a more proactive approach is needed for vaccine rollout

As would-be vaccine recipients scramble for appointment time slots, in too many cases "the technology is just being used wrong," says one exec.
By Kat Jercich
10:09 AM

Shannon Stapleton/Getty Images

Before the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, several healthcare industry leaders warned that ensuring everyone could get inoculated would likely be a logistical headache at the very least.

Unfortunately, these predictions have proved accurate, with states turning to patchwork approaches – including relying on commercial platforms such as Eventbrite – for scheduling waves of vaccinations for higher-priority individuals.   

It is still too early to say whether the Biden administration's COVID-19 response plan will make a meaningful difference, though that's certainly the national strategy's intention.  

In the meantime, some scheduling-technology vendors say they have the tools health systems need to facilitate getting shots into arms.  

"Right now, [the country's scheduling plan] is completely reactive," said Danny Sanchez, vice president and general manager of EnlivenHealth, in an interview with Healthcare IT News.

"The technology is just being used wrong," Sanchez continued.  

As he explained, every time a hospital, health system or county health department lists available vaccine inventory, "everybody hits that website."  

Sanchez compared the experience to consumers' rush to grab tickets to a popular concert or sports game (an apt metaphor, considering Eventbrite's typical use).   

He noted that this system is particularly egregious, given the demographic currently trying to access the COVID-19 vaccine in many states: senior citizens.  

"Now my 95-year-old grandmother has to find somebody to spend all day hitting refresh until they hit a time slot," Sanchez said.

With technology like EnlivenHealth's CareScheduler, Sanchez says the model becomes proactive rather than reactive: Pharmacies can use the tool to reach out to patients who qualify for the vaccine, based on health history, and fill time slots as they become available.   

Sanchez argued that retail pharmacies can play a major role in the rollout, given their large number and geographic distribution.

He also noted the large amount of health information many pharmacies have about patients, which can allow them to infer when those individuals might be eligible for the vaccine (nonmedical factors like profession notwithstanding).  

Sanchez also pointed to CareScheduler's reporting capabilities as advantageous in a broader public health and data-gathering context.  

At the time of Sanchez's interview with Healthcare IT News, he said pharmacy chains representing nearly 1,000 stores nationwide had signed up for the new digital tool.

Meanwhile, Zocdoc announced this past Friday that it had also launched a vaccine scheduler using its existing healthcare booking technology.  

The tool, called Vaccine Scheduler, allows large care organizations to screen patients for eligibility before selecting a preferred appointment site, date and time for both doses.  

New York City-based Mount Sinai was the first health system in the country to go live with the scheduler. According to Zocdoc, the tool has allowed Mount Sinai to schedule more than 100,000 vaccination appointments since December 20, 2020.   

"As we began to shift our focus toward vaccinations in the ambulatory setting, we started looking for solutions to simplify the scheduling logistics surrounding a program of this complexity, importance, scope and speed," said Kelly Cassano, dean for clinical affairs at Icahn School of Medicine and senior vice president for ambulatory operations at Mount Sinai Health System.  

At a time when many healthcare workers are feeling unprecedented levels of strain and burnout, Sanchez pointed to the importance of using digital health technology to streamline as many processes as possible.  

"This is the best example of how technology can change the paradigm," he said. "To lean on technology and to move to the proactive outreach model is very exciting."

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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