Eight Best Practices for COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Online: Insights From Our Health System Customers
With both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines approved and vaccine distribution occurring across the country, for the first time in months, there is a sense of optimism about returning to some type of normalcy. However, before we can enter a period of recovery or our “new normal,” one thing stands in the way. Vaccinating the public. While many healthcare organizations have spent the last several months rapidly innovating their operations and access models to meet the demands of pandemic (e.g., COVID-19 testing, delivering care virtually, etc.), distributing the COVID-19 vaccine represents a new and even more complex challenge.
Over the seven weeks, we’ve been working with close to 10 health systems to think through this challenge and deliver a solution to help streamline the vaccination process for their communities. We are proud that our online scheduling solution, powered by ProviderMatch for Consumers, has helped facilitate over 150K COVID-19 vaccine appointments to date, but the process has certainly not been without its learnings. To enable other healthcare organizations to learn from our work and improve vaccine access for their patients, we asked our Senior Director of Product, Mathieu Baissac, to share common mistakes and a selection of his best practices for online COVID-19 vaccine scheduling:
*Please note that this information and our understanding of what a successful vaccine rollout looks like, changes weekly. We plan to share additional learnings as we continue this work.
1. Create a central landing page for vaccine scheduling and gate it
Health systems need a place where they can communicate information about the COVID-19 vaccine, where vaccination sites exist, and any updates, for example, when they run out of vaccine appointments. With everyone eager to schedule their appointments and vaccine quantities low, we recommend gating these pages to provide your organization with greater control over who is booking to make sure only those who meet the current vaccine criteria can secure an appointment. Having a central page also prevents patients from booking at locations, like urgent cares or PCP offices, many of which aren’t offering vaccines because of storage requirements. For example, in the case that a customer didn’t have a way to control demand, we saw patients trying to book appointments through any channels possible (e.g., primary care offices, flu clinics, etc.).
Example of a COVID-19 vaccination page
2. Do not include COVID-19 providers in your health system’s provider directory
While health systems should have a directory of bookable vaccine providers (i.e. vaccine sites), they should control access until every patient can get a vaccine. In addition to gating your central vaccine scheduling page, we recommend hiding bookable vaccine providers from your general directory. This not only enables you to control who sees the page (i.e., only those who meet the current vaccine criteria), but also prevents patients from visiting your provider directory daily, hoping to find available appointment inventory. Additionally, because Google indexes these pages, even if they are hidden from your consumers, hide them from search engines as well to stop the directory page from appearing in organic search.
3. Space your outreach and send your emails to appropriate patient populations in batches
As previously mentioned, everyone is eager to get their vaccine and the number of patients who meet the current vaccine criteria far exceeds the number of doses a health system has on-hand at a given moment. For this reason, we recommend only creating demand for what you have. For example, if you have 5K doses, start by emailing 8-10K, assuming that not everyone will respond or feel comfortable receiving the shot. This may change depending on your area, but taking a phased approach can prevent your scheduling system or website from crashing, a rapid influx of calls into your organization, and visitors coming to your site only to realize there are no appointments lefts.
4. Route demand and inquiries away from primary care offices and urgent cares
Health systems need to be very clear in their communications about where and how patients can schedule vaccine appointments. If you are only administering shots at designated vaccine centers, make that clear across your digital platforms. As discussed above, many primary care offices or urgent cares are not offering the COVID-19 vaccine because of specialized storage requirements. We recommend including a disclaimer on your COVID-19 vaccine landing page, creating a pop-up with this information on your website, or adding a banner to your find-a-provider. In doing so, you’ll be able to direct demand through the appropriate channels, reducing pressure on schedulers at these locations and enabling them to book care for those needing routine or emergency care.
Example of a find-a-provider banner
5. Book only for the inventory you have on-hand
Health systems are excited about vaccinating their communities and want to do so quickly, but we recommend they plan a week at a time and only surface appointments available within the next two to three days for the initial dose. Why? The cancellation rate for vaccines booked a week out is very high. Additionally, you may overbook and need to cancel appointments. One of our partners had to cancel over half of their vaccine visits because their state did not ship previously committed volumes. And with certain states implementing “use it or lose it” policies, planning in this way can make sure you make the most efficient use of your inventory and get it to those who need it the most.
6. Add a one day lead time for vaccine booking (i.e., don’t offer same day appointments)
The COVID-19 vaccines have very specific storage requirements and as previously mentioned, health systems have limited quantities of the vaccines. Our recommendation is to book appointments more than a day out and not to offer same day booking. Building on our fifth recommendation, knowing how many appointments you have coming up the next day gives you time to prepare, check your inventory, and make an informed decision about how many vaccines to take out.
7. If you offer both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, don’t make patients choose
During the booking process, health systems should only give the option to book an "initial COVID-19 vaccine." We recommend this for a few different reasons. One, many patients don’t know the difference between the two, so this can cause confusion. Two, this confusion can slow them down and delay the booking process. Three, the majority of organizations don’t know their inventory mix, so booking a generic vaccine slot would give you the ability to switch back and forth between the types of vaccines you are scheduling.
8. Book the 2nd dose after patients have shown up for the first one
While health systems want to automate the booking process for the 2nd dose or ask patients to book it themselves, this can lead to a number of issues. For example, if the second dose is automatically booked with the first and the patient doesn’t show up for their initial visit, you have to cancel both visits. Automating the process can also be difficult in locations with mixed vaccine inventory, as patients won’t know when the second is due until they’ve received the first (since the timing between doses is different between the two vaccines). Lastly, in situations where health systems ask patients to self-schedule their second dose, they risk them miscalculating the dates or forgetting to book all together. For these reasons, we recommend that staff book the 2nd appointment or oversee patients booking it during the 15 minute post-shot period – this seems to be the only way to ensure patients book the right appointment at the right time.
Looking for a framework to prepare for recovery and lay the foundation for better access long term? Visit our Resource Library to get your copy of our Reactivation to Recovery Guide and learn how to build flexible patient access and scheduling models for the pandemic and beyond.