Whether you’re in charge of administering COVID-19 vaccines at a large sports arena, a grocery store, retail pharmacy, or small popup clinic, the fundamental challenges remain the same:
- healthcare professionals are in short supply.
- vaccine distribution is being disrupted more than expected.
- there are not enough vaccine doses available to meet current demand.
- the variable temperature sensitivity of the vaccine formulations is forcing doses to be administered almost immediately upon arrival.
That’s why it is so important that we put the right processes and technologies in place as soon as possible. As I explained in my last blog post, we need a better way to collect, analyze and utilize data associated with vaccine distribution and administration to our collective benefit. This data is key to:
- tracking progress against vaccination goals.
- monitoring vaccine performance and understanding how protocols may need to be adapted.
- ensuring individuals receive the right second dose of the vaccine at the right time.
- confirming that the doses were not compromised due to a temperature excursion prior to administration.
- reopening the economy.
It is also the best way to avoid missteps as we move fast to get shots in arms. The digitalization of data collection, analysis and distribution will make it easier to standardize and streamline vaccination efforts at multiple touchpoints. It will also ensure the right patient and vaccine data is being reported now and referenced later when second shots are administered or side effects are being monitored.
However, technology does far more than improve the vaccination experience for patients and healthcare providers. It can make life a lot easier for everyone involved in this global effort, including procurement teams, stores associates and people coming into your facility for other reasons.
How Technology Can Help Keep COVID-19 Vaccinations on Track, Before and After Appointments
As I mentioned last time, temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines must be closely monitored to ensure they remain within the appropriate temperature range during distribution, handling and storage. Both vaccine vial monitors, indicator cards and electronic data loggers can simplify this effort. However, it’s not recommended to wait until the time of administration to confirm a dose’s viability. Checks should occur frequently during the distribution, storage and preparation phases. If a temperature sensor confirms that a temperature excursion has occurred and doses are ultimately disposed of, patients will need to be notified ASAP. A mobile workforce management and/or task management app can alert staff of the issue and provide step-by-step guidance on how to contact and reschedule patients before they make the (sometimes long) drive to your site. Site managers can then monitor task progress and assign additional labor resources to make phone calls if needed so that people don’t show up for their appointments only to find out they’ll have to come back.
And I want to reiterate just how critical an impact staffing has on the success of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. Given the shortage of healthcare professionals, administrative staff, and facilitators available to support vaccination efforts, it is imperative that the scheduling of their time is performed with extreme care. A workforce management solution will help balance labor resources with demand to provide the optimum schedule and allow the vaccination facility to quickly adjust to unexpected changes like unplanned vaccine availability or shortfall, extreme weather, or a worker calling in sick. It will also be key to ensuring there are enough associates on each shift to fulfill routine pharmacy/clinic/store duties in retail and healthcare environments as certain team members are reassigned to support vaccinations.
I also recommend retailers consider integrating a prescriptive analytics solution that can help monitor for non-compliance with safety and cleaning protocols and flag potential operational challenges, such as overwhelmed or underutilized staff. And the use of a touchless time clock can help to reduce chance of passing infections as associates clock in and out.
At government-run sites, there will be some people who were just trained to administer vaccines as well as teams of professionals and volunteers who may have never worked together or at your particular location. It’s going to prove challenging to fully brief staff on processes, and transient teams may not remember the little variations as they move around. This is where a task management solution will prove very valuable, as it can deliver step-by-step checklists and guidance to ensure no mistakes are made. For example, a solution such as Q-Check can create a simplified set of instructions for each role and station to improve consistency safety (i.e., Step 1. Apply hand sanitizer to gloves between each patient. Step 2...).
Of course, many organizations are going to want a way to verify who has been vaccinated as we work to resume activities at greater levels. However, that’s going to prove challenging unless we can come up with a way to build trust in the various forms of certifications that are being issued around the world. My colleague Alex Fryer spoke about a framework that Zebra and IOTA have come up with to assist with this effort in a recent blog post. It uses distributed ledger technology to securely certify documentation, whether in the form of a barcoded vaccination card or label or smartphone app that generates either a barcode or QR code. The only thing a verifying organization would need to retrieve the certified data would be a handheld mobile device, tablet or scanner that could read the barcode or QR code.
Something else to remember: vaccine vials aren’t the only “inventory” that you will be accountable for at a vaccination site. You will also need to order, store and manage personal protective equipment (PPE), needles, alcohol wipes, band aids and waste management supplies in addition to the media used for vaccination certificates/cards. Any shortage could result in appointment cancellations and vaccination delays. Therefore, it’s critical that you employ a technology-powered inventory management system to maintain an accurate count and have a way to automatically report usage to procurement teams – or even directly to suppliers – to trigger reorders before stock runs out.
In other words, the more technology that’s used throughout the process, the more likely you are to accurately capture and report data, speed up the patient journey and maximize limited labor resources.
Why It’s Never Too Late to Start Integrating Technology into the Vaccination Process
Inoculating billions of people in a matter of months, in the middle of a global pandemic, will be difficult. But it’s achievable. (Remember, more than fifty years ago we sent a man to the moon and brought him back again.)
Once the right processes and technology are in place, it will become much easier for vaccination facilities to:
- successfully schedule both patients and staff at a manageable (but increased) capacity.
- verify preservation of the cold chain after vials are received or removed from storage.
- quickly confirm patient IDs, vaccination history and current dosing needs;
- report dose administration, side effects and other pertinent campaign monitoring information in critical healthcare, supply chain and government information systems.
- certify vaccination for individuals eager to resume some of their pre-pandemic routines.
I realize that changes won’t happen overnight, but we can start taking tangible steps today to improve the efficiency and expediency of vaccination administration, eliminate many pain points that currently frustrate both vaccine administrators and patients and reduce the risks of errors and oversights.
I encourage you to visit our website or contact our team to learn more about how Zebra can help your team make simple, yet meaningful updates to your processes using technologies that were purpose built for applications such as this.