The summer months are coming to an end, which can only mean one thing: flu season is looming and providers must find better tactics to help prevent its spread.
While it may feel strange to talk about the flu while it is still warm in much of the country, this is the most important time of the year to start thinking about protecting those most vulnerable to the flu – especially the elderly.
Elderly people are at greater risk of more serious complications from the flu compared to younger, healthy adults because human immune defenses become weaker with age. According to the CDC, in recent years between 70 and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50 and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.
Seeing how elderly people are more likely to visit their physicians on a regular basis, it’s important that providers begin to leverage these interactions to educate patients and their caregivers on the upcoming flu season. Even if the vaccine is not yet available, providers should be discussing the importance of timely vaccinations and providing information on where and when the patient can receive the flu shot.
Why Healthcare Providers Should Start Preparing Now
Providers must begin thinking about how they are going to keep their patients and communities safe from the flu. This must happen now, rather than waiting for the flu shot to become available. Although the flu exists throughout the year, there is a significant peak from December through February and providers must be proactive in ensuring that their patients have been vaccinated before peak flu season.
Physicians and other healthcare providers should be diligent in educating patients about the flu, and ensure it is easy and inexpensive to get vaccinated. Since it takes approximately two weeks for the vaccination to be fully effective, providers must encourage their patients to receive the flu shot early.
In addition to educating patients about the flu vaccine, healthcare providers must also share the importance of communicating symptoms early. Treatments, such as Tamiflu, lessen symptoms of infected patients, however, this treatment must be initiated soon after the onset of symptoms. It is not uncommon for patients to initially think they have a “cold” and not seek care upon onset of initial symptoms. This increases the risk of spreading the virus, as well as experiencing more severe symptoms that may require hospitalization.
With the fast-paced American culture in mind, people need to be reminded of the importance of receiving the flu vaccine, and then reminded again, and again, until they have been vaccinated or deemed not appropriate for vaccination.
How Technology Can Help
As a nurse, I understand how challenging it can be to educate all patients on the importance of receiving the flu vaccination. To offset some of these challenges, providers can look to technology to help in the process. It is very important that everyone get the flu shot; leveraging data in the EMR will help providers understand which patients have been vaccinated, as well as other high-risk patients that may require additional education or assistance scheduling their flu shot.
Providers often assign an internal resource to contact patients to communicate the importance of the flu vaccine, as well as share locations where a patient can be vaccinated. Because this process is very timely and tedious, some providers have leveraged automated messages via call or text to ensure every patient has received communication about the flu shot. By automating this process, providers can reach significantly more patients and continue to remind those who require ongoing education on the importance of receiving the flu vaccine.
This type of technology is being utilized across the country to help increase vaccination rates, especially amongst the elderly populations. By calling or texting patients, providers are increasing the odds that a patient will take action and protect themselves from contracting or spreading the flu. This preventive measure can help significantly decrease the amount of flu-related visits and adverse events.
As summer comes to a close, I encourage providers to think proactively about how they are engaging patients in flu prevention. By creating population-wide awareness and educational programs to increase vaccination compliance, providers can ensure that all measures were taken to encourage patients to get the flu shot and even allows them to get a few more reminders to those who need it most.
Want to dig deeper? Read this whitepaper to discover how one health system leveraged technology to increase flu vaccination rates amongst their 50 years and older primary care population by 38%.