Within the past 18 months, what used to be a relatively simple process for organizations providing healthcare services – ensuring their employees had required and recommended vaccines – has gotten contentious and complicated – to say the least.
The rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant and new immunization mandates creates concerns and complexities for hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care and other providers. As of early October, the CDC has approved Pfizer booster immunizations for frontline healthcare workers as well as those over 65 with high-risk conditions or meeting other designated criteria.
Additionally, singled out specifically, COVID-19 vaccinations will now be required for all healthcare workers at Long-Term Care facilities who serve Medicare and Medicaid enrollees. (No reimbursement from Medicare/Medicaid unless all workers are fully vaccinated.) Immunizing that population in itself is a significant undertaking. As of October, about 70% of nursing home and LTC workers were fully vaccinated.
These new demands for immunizations hit at the same time hospitals are ramping up for their annual Fall Flu Vaccination initiatives. As if all that wasn’t enough, new hospital workers must get additional vaccines before starting work, such as Hepatitis B and MMR. That too is a tall order as there is a historic influx of new hires in healthcare to compensate for those workers who have left due to vaccine policies, burnout and those needed to handle heavy patient loads.
Findings Ways to Address the Challenge
The challenge for hospitals is how to efficiently track, manage and report on the process while ensuring that daily workflow is not interrupted and that no undue burden is placed on already over-worked employees.
New technologies, including platforms integrated into electronic health record (EHR) systems and mobile apps, are stepping up to make the process more efficient and manageable for thousands of hospitals, clinics and other providers groups nationally.
With a growing sense of urgency, organizations are looking for better ways to address the health, safety and immunization status of their employees. Here are 10 practical tips that will help move initiatives forward.
10 Tips for Improving Employee Immunization Initiatives
1. Develop a comprehensive, coordinated and integrated employee health program to ensure the wellness and safety of employees and maintain productivity. While hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities care for others, they must also take steps to ensure the health and well-being of their dedicated employees. Immunizations are important but just one part of overall employee health management. Look for EHR systems that ensure all key elements of employee health can be managed, tracked and reported on to ensure compliance and wellness.
2. Ensure awareness of all state and federal reporting requirements. All 50 states require reporting of flu, COVID-19 and other immunizations. Reporting requirements may change – for example, some require electronic submissions, others still use fax. It’s up to the hospital to stay on top of regulations for all states where they operate. That’s also why it’s vital to engage with an EHR vendor who stays on top of regulations and ensures their software is updated in time to support the organization in meeting regulations.
3. Embrace technology to make immunization management, tracking and reporting of employee health more efficient. Use technology with features like mobile screening so the immunization events can be held at multiple locations and automated daily uploads can be sent to relevant reporting bodies (e.g., State immunization registries for COVID) to help bring efficiencies to the process.
4. Explore systems that integrate immunization and other wellness programs into one platform for easier reporting, management and cost-savings. Ensure the system interfaces and is interoperable with your EHR and other technologies so that it streamlines processes and brings efficiencies to your team.
5. Make the process for flu, COVID and other vaccinations easy and convenient for staff. Have multiple locations and times (made possible through mobile technologies) for immunizations and consider the impact on their schedules and your staffing needs.
6. Look for platforms that offer easy-to-use on-demand web portals so employees can request appointments, complete and submit paperwork and get answers to other questions about the organization’s health programs and requirements. Automating the process is easier for employees and also managers and HR staff as routine tasks are computerized.
7. Communicate clearly and often with employees so they know the rationale behind wellness programs and can get the latest news. Identify employees who haven’t been immunized or who have not completed the process. Contact them to find out about their concern or issues. Is it scheduling, timing, a health issue or religious belief? Or, do they need more education on the value and safety of immunizations? Non-judgmental and supportive outreach, especially from peers, can play a significant role in increasing immunization rates.
8. Coordinate the timing of various immunizations, so it doesn’t interfere with work and home schedules. Additionally, for employees needing their initial or second-round of immunizations and with booster shots for COVID-19 under consideration, remember that the CDC recommends 21 days between COVID and other vaccines – be sure to consider the timing when developing work schedules.
9. Look specifically for platforms that offer a business intelligence dashboard so that managers and leaders can quickly access employee health status and relevant reports and identify areas of need. (For example, a department with staff that have not completed their immunizations or who need to schedule boosters.)
10. Focus on all elements of employee health. While your primary focus is on your patients, ask if now is the time to take a fresh look at the health services offered to employees. As we’ve seen over the past 18 months, we’ve tended to become COVID-centric when it comes to health. Like patients, employees still need flu and other vaccines and to ensure overall wellness. Look for resources to help you manage and improve all aspects of your valued employees’ healthcare programs.
Putting in Place the Platforms Needed
We face another period of uncertainty with the Delta variant and likely new strains for COVID coupled with this year’s flu and changes in regulations. This new reality, combined with the need to continue encouraging voluntary vaccinations where possible and follow mandated guidelines where necessary, means employers must ensure they have the right resources, tools, and support.
To meet the dynamic needs of today’s environment and safeguard the health of their valuable employees, leadership at hospitals, clinics, long-term care and other facilities need to embrace new technologies and approaches. We may not know what will happen tomorrow, but we can plan today by putting in place advanced platforms and systems to ensure our healthcare workforce is safe, healthy and can meet the needs of the communities they serve.
About David Owen
David Owen is Chief Product Officer for Net Health, a Pittsburgh, PA-based company that offers EHR software and predictive, actionable analytics for medical specialties, including rehab therapy, wound care, home health and hospice. The company also provides employee health and occupational medicine for healthcare organizations.