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By Matt Fairhurst, CEO, Skedulo
The testing process for COVID-19 exposed major vulnerabilities in the healthcare industry’s back-end technology. Crashed systems, long wait times and inequitable access are just a few of the ways traditional tools failed the public health system.
Now, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations poses even more challenges. Local governments, hospitals and pharmacy retailers are turning to tech companies for support — with varying degrees of success.
Consider Florida’s use of Eventbrite to distribute vaccinations. Eventbrite, known for concert sales, wasn’t built to schedule medical appointments at such a high volume. At rollout, the platform experienced many hiccups that jeopardized the public’s trust.
The ongoing public health crisis demands high-performing, dependable back-end technology. To reach full recovery, healthcare organizations need tools that address the unique and complex challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
COVID-19 vaccination complexities impede rollout efforts
Based on my organization’s work in COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, we’ve identified four common areas of complexity healthcare organizations need technology to accommodate:
- The challenge: Capacity and scale
Healthcare organizations historically used core systems of records, like EMRs and EHRs, to schedule immunizations. But these systems don’t accommodate high web traffic for a limited amount of appointments.
Additionally, the upstream supply of available vaccines determines the number of appointments, which makes each new wave of appointments unique. Larger systems, like a densely populated county managing several vaccination sites, may be dealing with hundreds of thousands of individual slots.
While some systems are using virtual wait rooms to gate access, it’s a band-aid workaround at best. Users are not given the same web experience, and some must endure hours-long wait times before booking.
- Eligibility and politics
Most local governments are restricting vaccination eligibility to ensure vulnerable populations receive priority access. Eligibility is often determined at a local and quite granular level, like offering vaccination slots for residents of certain zip codes only at specific clinics — which adds another layer of complexity.
Decisions to open vaccine eligibility are often made just days in advance. Vaccination sites must regularly update communications regarding eligibility criteria and the necessary supporting documents. And those updates require quickly adjusting technology to verify and admit these new groups.
- Vaccine specifications
Each brand of COVID-19 vaccines has specific requirements. Differences include number of doses, inoculation times, eligibility and (if applicable) length of time between doses. If not taken into careful consideration, these variations can jeopardize the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Another scheduling headache involves factoring in double doses, like in the case of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, as opposed to the single dose of Johnson and Johson (or other vaccines yet to come). Individuals who need a second dose must be prioritized to ensure full protection. Organizations must forecast supply to dedicate enough doses for full vaccination — but not so much that vaccines go to waste.
- Clarity and accessibility
In addition to the technology’s functionality, it must also be accessible. Vaccination appointments must be available for households without internet, individuals with visual impairments, those who aren’t fluent in English, the elderly and more. Considering the high demand for the vaccine across demographics, ensuring equitable access must be a top priority.
Some organizations want to reserve doses for call-ins or mobile delivery (like for rural households or nursing homes). This number often changes based on vaccine supply and appointment releases.
The solution: High-capacity scheduling software
High-capacity scheduling software is a new category of technology that is purpose-built to organize and streamline COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. The solution has successfully helped organizations resolve common distribution challenges in the following ways:
- Capacity and scale: As eligibility expands, hundreds of thousands of individuals will attempt to book vaccine appointments at the same time. High-capacity scheduling uses cloud technology to rapidly scale to increased demand.
- Eligibility and politics: The solution is flexible, highly configurable and user-friendly, enabling organizations — from state governments to individual clinic sites — to easily adapt eligibility requirements. It can automatically deliver appointment confirmations, reminders or announcements via SMS and email to lift the burden of communication off staff.
- Vaccine specifications: The differences in vaccine brands and requirements mean each patient must be treated as an individual. High-capacity scheduling uses complex logic to handle multivariate specifications — ensuring organizations are scheduling follow-up appointments appropriately.
- Clarity and accessibility: The solution delivers a seamless vaccine booking experience across devices (like phone, desktop and mobile) and can be made available in many languages. Organizations can also reserve spots for patients who call via phone or for mobile delivery if homebound.
Reopen the world on schedule
Technology providers across industries have stepped up to equip healthcare organizations with better back-end infrastructure to manage the public health crisis. However, not all solutions are equal and insufficient tools jeopardize vaccination efforts.
High-capacity scheduling software is currently helping federal governments, states and individual healthcare organizations successfully vaccinate their citizens and communities. And we’ve quickly learned that the world relies on purpose-built technology to solve COVID-19 vaccine distribution in a large-scale, efficient and equitable manner.