Solving the “last mile” challenges of COVID-19 vaccinations

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Since multiple viable COVID-19 vaccines became available late last year, the end to the global pandemic seems at hand. What in the past has taken ten to fifteen years was compressed down to mere months, thanks to prior research and new techniques. Not just one but several vaccines in such a short period of time marks an amazing feat for medical science.

Governments around the globe have been working quickly with the vaccine developers to ramp up production as well as with healthcare providers to hasten distribution. Today, the coming availability of the vaccine is being promoted by local government healthcare agencies, medical providers, and retail pharmacies. In fact, start typing “when can I get the vaccine” into your search engine of choice and chances are it will autocomplete as one of the more popular searches.

Unlike its speedy development, however, vaccine distribution has run into issues. With literally the entire population of the world in need of it, it’s a global undertaking fraught with problems and challenges. Compounding things are the varying rollout plans countries have; in the United States alone, each state has its own plan. It all adds up to making the “last step” or “last mile” of vaccine distribution–getting the doses into the arms of people around the world–that much more difficult.

But several of these last mile challenges are not unlike those tackled by any high-volume customer service operation. Tools like self-service, workflow, and system integration hold the key to overcoming these hurdles.

Addressing common questions

In light of how quickly the vaccine has been developed as well as the varying rollout plans, people have many questions. How safe are the vaccines? What types are available? Who is eligible?

Such questions would typically go to customer service staff at a government agency or healthcare provider. Vaccination questions from a large segment of the population have only further overwhelmed these organizations already burdened by inquiries about COVID-19 and other non-pandemic medical issues.

Two common customer service tools are fit for this: a knowledge base and chatbot. A series of knowledge articles–with topics ranging from the types of available vaccines, their efficacy, additional dosing requirements, and recipient eligibility based on local government directives–could be created. The chatbot could respond to common questions and refer more complex questions back to those knowledge articles for detailed explanations.

Appointment scheduling

Once potential recipients have addressed any questions they have, the next step is to get on the vaccination list. This creates the next challenge for vaccine distribution agencies: recipients must be vetted for eligibility and an appointment scheduled.

Just as questions can be addressed with self-service, so too can these next steps in the last mile be delivered in that manner. Though a recipient might think they are eligible, an online questionnaire validating their status could be used. Once qualified, workflow could record this patient and their eligibility, then grant them the opportunity to select from available appointment times. These would be setup by the provider, taking any social distancing and staff availability issues into account.

Some agencies might prefer a more proactive approach to scheduling. With in-house lists of eligible citizens or patients, they could mass schedule as availability permitted. If a recipient was not available on the proposed date and time, those same self-service scheduling capabilities could be used by the recipient to find another time slot.

Self-selected or scheduled by the agency, workflow could ensure email reminders of initial and follow-up doses are sent by email or text message to recipients. This helps ensure recipients would not miss their designated times for initial and follow-up vaccinations.

Patient and vaccine monitoring

Everything described so far leans heavily on self-service and recipient interactions–capabilities delivered from a customer service platform. That same platform can assist in-office once it’s time to vaccinate.

In addition to group scheduling and appointment management, an agency would need to track who has received first and second doses. It’s common with any vaccination (especially new ones) to monitor recipients for any adverse affects, both for treatment as well as to inform vaccine manufacturers.

It’s important this record keeping is done using a platform that provides easy integration to other systems, especially those that manage medical records. The short-term goal is to track who has received the vaccination to measure progress across the entire population and to ultimately overcome the pandemic. Longer term, it’s also important to keep medical records up-to-date.

Tackling the last mile

The unprecedented pace of COVID-19 vaccine development has created a new sense of hope in the world. The end to lockdowns, relieving pressure on frontline workers, and a return to a more normal life is close. Very close.

Many of the difficulties in vaccinating the population come down to overcoming questions, scheduling, and tracking distribution at a scale unlike anything before. Customer service teams around the world have come to rely on the proven tools and techniques mentioned here to augment their operations. They just might hold the key to overcoming these last mile challenges.

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