Modernize Public Health Infrastructure to Defend Against Emerging Viruses

Tag Archives: vaccination

Modernize Public Health Infrastructure to Defend Against Emerging Viruses

modernize public health infrastructure

Getting back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic would be getting back to a normal where Americans were vulnerable to that form of devastation. COVID-19 has made us aware that public health and economic prosperity are linked. The threat of emerging viruses has been, and continues to be, one of our nation’s greatest threats. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40 public health leaders and corporate health executives met to identify and outline solutions to strengthen our nation’s response to COVID-19. They also discussed ways to move forward and protect us from other emerging viruses. They call to modernize public health infrastructure and for other changes for the betterment of American public health.

Public health experts have stated that a modernized public health infrastructure could have saved more lives from COVID-19 and protected against some of the economic fallout. They advocate that spending be reorganized to update public health technologies and data systems. They also named strengthening partnerships across sectors, effectively coordinating with the federal government, hiring more specialized healthcare workers and addressing systemic injustices as key to a more effective public healthcare system.

The roadmap outlined by these experts to improve public health includes updated technologies because these are essential in times of crisis. These data systems and the information exchanges between public health centers and immunization registries is vital to a faster and more effective response to viral threats on the American public. These data systems make sure public health workers have the information they need to make the right decisions and to employ the right strategies in response to public health emergencies. These technologies are used to track emerging threats, monitor at-risk populations, prevent disease, and promote wellness within our communities.

As public health experts work towards ending and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, they hope to ensure America is better prepared to address future public health crises. It is important not to take this pandemic as a standalone incident and to be prepared when, and not if, another virus outbreak occurs. The government has been offering more funding towards public health infrastructure of late and some legislators are moving to create mainstay funding to keep public health data systems and infrastructure continually updated.

If your public health agency has received funding to modernize your public health infrastructure and you are now in the process of shopping for a new Electronic Health Record (EHR) solution, be sure to do your due diligence and evaluate vendors. Consider those that specialize in public health and find out whether their solution will allow you to connect with immunization registries and HIEs for greater access to health information and faster response time during a public health emergency. Any tools they offer for mass vaccination will also help.

Do Individuals have to Disclose Vaccination Status?

disclose vaccination status or not - the law

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a controversy about “vaccine passports”, medical privacy laws and individual rights. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) eases restrictions on individuals vaccinated against Coronavirus, many companies and individuals are asking for individuals to disclose vaccination status. HIPAA is often cited as a justification to avoid disclosing that vaccination status; however, there are common misconceptions on what HIPAA actually covers as protections for medical information. As part of helping community members make informed decisions on getting vaccinated, it is important that medical providers offer clarity on this subject. Patients should know the negative consequences of not getting vaccinated in addition to the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. These conversations are an important part of increasing vaccination in our communities.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA, provides safeguards to protect an individual’s identifiable health information from being disclosed without their knowledge or consent. This legislation only applies to certain health-related businesses, however. Those businesses include insurance companies, healthcare clearinghouses, healthcare providers, and business connections. Your doctor, for example, cannot disclose your medical information without your express consent. There are other federal and state privacy regulations that may force employers and schools to secure personal information as well. Otherwise, HIPAA and no other federal law prohibits private enterprises that serve the public from requiring personnel and customers to get vaccinated or from anyone else to ask about vaccination status.

Some people are hesitant to disclose their vaccination status, and everyone has the right to not disclose. There most certainly would be consequences of not disclosing, however. Families and friend groups can ask for individuals to disclose their vaccination status before visiting. An employer can ask and even require an individual to get the vaccine as a condition of employment. HIPAA does not prevent a business from denying a person entry if they refuse to disclose vaccination status also. While businesses cannot deny service because of color or gender, there is no regulation that says companies cannot discriminate based on an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status during the pandemic.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees federal anti-discrimination rules in the workplace. They released an advisory concerning employers asking about vaccination status. They stated that “there is no indication that an employer asking this question would be violating any federal law. If an employer’s efforts to find out why a worker didn’t get vaccinated elicits information regarding a disability, it might be a violation.”

It is important that patients understand how vaccination status affects their ability to return to life with eased restrictions. Not getting vaccinated and being willing to disclose that information can affect their ability to enjoy services, spend time with loved ones or be employed. Be sure that your patients’ understand these limitations on the law’s protections about being asked to disclose vaccination status so they can make informed decisions on being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Communication Tips to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations

talking about vaccines

How can your organization start conversations about COVID-19, address the needs of individual communities and pave a path forward to increased vaccination rates? How do you prevent misinformation from creating hesitancy? As public health agencies continue trying to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19, we can use the following tips from public health experts to communicate skillfully about vaccines in order to build trust and confidence in community members. 

Make it personal.

Getting vaccinated is a personal decision. Keeping family members safe and healthy is a much more motivating factor than the community, the country, or the economy. Express your concern for the health of your patients and their loved ones, provide information and answer questions so that patients can make an informed decision that’s right for them.

Don’t be judgemental.

Avoid judgemental language when speaking to people who are concerned about taking the vaccine. Being concerned about taking a new vaccine for a new virus is normal. Address reservations by encouraging patients to ask questions and provide answers in ways they understand.

Stay positive.

Explain the benefits of getting vaccinated instead of just focusing on the consequences of not doing so. Emphasize that the benefits of getting vaccinated far exceed the risks and remind patients that getting vaccinated is the best step they can take towards returning to normal activities. 

Tailor your messages.

When speaking about the risks of declining vaccination, be sure to tailor your message to the patient you are speaking to from your perspective as their healthcare provider.

Build trust through people not organizations.

Recognize that people trust scientists, health and medical experts more so than corporations or government organizations. You can tell patients that nearly all doctors who have been offered the vaccine have taken it. You can also lead by example by encouraging your entire staff to get vaccinated.

Focus on safety.

Many people are concerned about the speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were created. De-emphasize talking about speed; share information about the safety of the vaccine and speak transparently about side effects. You can share with your patients that COVID-19 vaccines have been held to the same rigorous standards as other vaccines and that scientists and researchers have been studying, working with and creating mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and viral vectors (Johnson & Johnson) for decades.

Speak up against misinformation.

Misinformation will fill the silence if not making an effort to share facts about these vaccines with your patients. Post information in your waiting room, staff break room, common areas, your website and social media platforms. Also, consider sending a letter to your patients with an invitation for them to make an appointment with you.

Use technology to strengthen communication. 

Does your health agency have the ability to send automated messages to your patients and community members through your EHR? Reach out to your patients the way they like to receive communications whether via email, phone or text and welcome them in for appointments to discuss their concerns about vaccines with your providers. If you have a patient portal available, be sure to encourage community members to easily schedule their vaccination appointment though the app and to sign up for automated appointment reminders.

The way to move forward with getting your communities fully vaccinated is to open lines of communication and build trust and confidence through information sharing and answering questions. Help your community members make informed decisions to protect themselves and their family members. Increase communication with technology built to help you more easily reach your patients. If your current EHR software does not provide these tools, consider comparing other vendors and whether or not it is time to make a switch.

When battling Flu season, EHR technology can help!

vaccination

During a press conference held on February 15, 2018, both Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Acting Director, Anne Schuchat, stressed that this year’s flu season “continues to be extremely challenging and intense” and that “all indications are that flu activity remains high and is likely to continue for several more weeks.” For the past few weeks, the entire nation has been under attack.
 

Clinicians have to do a lot, so how can healthcare agencies step up their game when it comes to combating outbreaks or other emerging health concerns?  By using Electronic Health Records EHR technology that is equipped to face the challenges.  Then managing the process becomes as simple as 1 – 2 – 3!

     

  1. Easily track trends and pinpoint where the FLU is hitting your communities the hardest

A good GIS Health Mapping system, integrated with Electronic Health Record (EHR) data, allows the health department to see actionable data in real time. This can be an effective tool to plan outreach and communicate need/strategy with community stakeholders.

     

  1. Execute an outreach plan – message all community members to let them know where they can get vaccinated

Communication tools built-in to the EHR can automate mass messaging to community members.  This tool can be utilized to education members of the severity of the flu situation as well as where they can get a flu shot.

     

  1. Administer and easily document vaccines given to all patients that walk through your doors

A good EHR will have an Immunization feature that can improve the patient intake process and reduce the data entry efforts required by nurses. Inventory management and bar code scanning software can provide further automation.
 

With this technology at hand, health agencies can improve the management process of an epidemic such as this year’s flu outbreak. If you don’t have the support you need from an EHR, it’s not too late to get a plan in action.  Here’s how.
 

To keep current on the flu outbreak, check out the CDC’s Weekly reports.  And remember, to help prevent the spread of flu, avoid close contact, stay at home if you’re sick, cover your mouth and nose, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and practice general good health habits.