How 2 health systems made their COVID-19 vaccine rollout as efficient as possible

Months after the official COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, systems of all sizes have adjusted their strategy to become more efficient and match the community they serve.

Two leaders from large regional health systems shared their vaccine rollout strategies with Becker's, along with advice for other systems. 

How two health systems are scheduling second COVID-19 vaccine appointments 

Currently at Houston Methodist, all vaccine centers are automatically scheduling second vaccine appointments at the time of the first appointment, Tesha Montgomery, RN, vice president of operations and patient access for the physician organization at Houston Methodist, told Becker's. Using Epic, Houston Methodist automatically schedules the second appointment three to four weeks out, depending on the vaccine, around the same time the current appointment is. "So health employees are handing out sheets with the second appointment time on it before people are even being vaccinated," Ms. Montgomery said. 

The health system didn't have an automated system in the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccination process. Instead, upon checking out after receiving the vaccine, they would manually schedule appointments, which posed several time and efficiency issues that auto-scheduling fixed.

One of the biggest factors of a successful rollout, Ms. Montgomery concluded, would be sufficient staffing.

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health is also scheduling second dose visits when individuals are on-site to get their first dose, said Andrea Polkinghorn, BSN, RN, immunization strategy leader at Sanford. If individuals don't show up for their appointments, a member of the scheduling team follows up a minimum of three times via phone. Some people haven't shown up for their second dose — a very small number — because they really didn't like the vaccine side effects. Overall, Sanford has given nearly 170,000 first and second dose vaccines, of which only .02 percent have reported significant adverse reactions, according to Ms. Polkinghorn.

Sanford Health has sent emails, texts, phone calls and letters in the mail and has leveraged MyChart to notify patients when they're eligible to receive the vaccine, Ms. Polkinghorn said. Sanford also set up a specific phone line for patients to call with any questions about the vaccine.  

Community vaccinations & surplus events

Community-wise, Ms. Montgomery said some individuals have come to Houston Methodist because they were having trouble getting their second dose from their initial vaccination source, though occurrences were uncommon and each situation varied. In the event of Houston Methodist administering a COVID-19 vaccine to someone to avoid waste, the second shot appointments are scheduled the same as everyone else. 

Sanford Health has experienced a few people coming in who got their first dose from another organization and are looking for their second dose, Ms. Polkinghorn said. Sanford is providing them with the second shot because the situation occurs so infrequently that supply allocations aren't affected.

Advice for other healthcare systems

Systems need to have a good pulse on supply chain, i.e., how many doses they're receiving and what the maximum capacity they can reach in a day is, said Ms. Polkinghorn, emphasizing the importance of number-crunching before going live. 

"Schedule the booster shot at the time when the patient is there. Even if you don't have the same level of tech/innovation, schedule it right then and there," Ms. Montgomery said, noting that systems are building in inherent waste if they don't immediately set up appointments.   


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