Two years after Covid-19 vaccines first became available to the public, over 20% of American adults are still unvaccinated. And that’s just for the primary series – only about 15% have received the new bivalent booster.
While we’ve known all along that vaccination alone won’t stop Covid-19, it remains a critically important tool for saving lives. And health care providers are the key to closing the vaccination gap: both as persuasive messengers and as the practical providers of vaccination.
Providers as persuasive messengers
In the charged atmosphere created by the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine, vaccine hesitancy has found fertile ground. Nearly four in five adults confess to being unsure if some of the Covid-19 misinformation they’ve heard is true or not. Trustworthy messengers are absolutely necessary to overcome people’s doubts and fears.
Crucially, in an environment where vaccine hesitancy is politically polarized, this positive view of medical providers bridges every divide in society. Doctors are the most trusted source of health information for everyone in the US, regardless of political party.
Even unvaccinated individuals trust their doctors’ opinions on vaccination more than anyone else’s! The strength of these pre-existing relationships makes providers the perfect candidates to change their patients’ minds.
Patient-focused strategies to increase vaccination
So, what can providers do to make the most of their patients’ trust? Researchers in fields like public health, psychology, and behavioral science have studied the most effective ways for physicians to reach their patients. Two strategies have been shown to work time and again to increase vaccine uptake:
- Make strong, presumptive recommendations. Researchers agree: nothing’s better at getting patients vaccinated than a physician’s recommendation. One study about maternal immunization found that over 90% of women would accept vaccination if their doctor recommended it—even though many of them had significant hesitancies and concerns. The most effective way to encourage vaccination is to provide what’s called a strong, presumptive recommendation. Instead of asking if a patient is interested in a vaccine, a provider can announce that it’s time for their vaccination, putting the onus on the patient to opt out. Treating vaccines like a simple, routine part of everyday care reassures people that there’s nothing to worry about, making it easier to just go with the flow. It’s no surprise that presumptive recommendations might be as much as seventeen times less likely to be met with resistance!
- Send vaccination reminders and invitations ahead of time. It’s easy for people to forget when vaccinations are due, or to simply put them off for a later date. By pre-emptively scheduling patients for vaccine appointments, providers can take the hardest part of the process off their plate.
This strategy’s been shown to increase flu vaccination rates by 10%, and there’s no reason to think it will not work for other vaccines as well. If that strategy’s too aggressive, reminders can also help— anything to make the vaccination process easier on patients.
Practice-focused strategies to increase vaccination
Patients aren’t the only ones who can benefit from making the vaccination process easier and more streamlined. Providers can also benefit by taking steps to ensure their practice environment is ideal for encouraging vaccination:
- Standing orders to automate vaccination. Standing orders allow busy physicians to offload some of the burden of vaccination to other professionals, like nurses, who could easily incorporate immunization into other routine intake procedures. They’re one of the best-supported methods for increasing vaccination, with over 40 studies proving they work. Check out this guide for ten quick and easy steps for how to implement standing orders in your practice.
- Tracking success using audit and feedback systems. It’s difficult to improve on something that you’re not measuring. Audit and feedback systems let providers track their vaccination rates and compare them to an intended target. Generally, tracking has a small and reliably positive effect on physicians’ performance, but there are ways to make it stronger. For example, when practices or providers can compare their vaccination rates to each other, the benefits of feedback get stronger. Everyone wants to see their name on the top of the leaderboard!
Providers’ role in vaccination
Of course, some providers might hesitate to adopt these strategies because they believe their role in health is to guide patients rather than make decisions for them. That’s certainly fair— no one should compromise their professional ethics.
In many cases, however, patients are making their vaccination decisions in an environment filled with disinformation, often spread by a few motivated individuals who may be chasing profit over truth. Health care providers are trusted by Americans due to their long history of putting their patients’ needs first. When it comes to vaccination, that means at least beginning the conversation.
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