In December, physician and author Dr. Linda Girgis offered her unique perspective on our 2016-2017 flu vaccine data, obtained with insights from 108 primary care and pediatric InCrowd physicians. This week, we present data from another group of healthcare professionals equally invested in vaccinating the public against the treacherous flu virus: pharmacists. Our microsurvey tool reached 110 pharmacists from around the country–averaging 13 years in practice–to learn their expectations for the 2016-2017 flu season and to obtain their detailed reports regarding pharmacy-based administration of the vaccine.
With so much media mention of the gravity around and severity of influenza cases, why does the public continue to remain resistant to the flu vaccine? 50% of pharmacists stated that patient misconceptions were the greatest contributing factor to vaccine refusal. Not unlike physician reports, pharmacists said that patients expressed concerns that they will contract the virus from the flu shot itself. Additionally, patients frequently question the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“I explain how susceptible [patients] are to the flu, how sick they can get and how the vaccine can protect them and others as well.” Pharmacist, New Jersey, 13 years in practice
Pharmacists face generalized anti-vaccination sentiment from patients twice as often as physicians. Almost 10% of pharmacists said this was a primary reason that patients are unwilling to obtain their flu vaccination, compared to 5% of doctors. Clearly, patient education plays an important role in influenza prevention and each patient’s decision whether or not to vaccinate themselves and their families.
As each year comes with its own unique variations, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been hesitant to set expectations for the course of the 2016-2017 season. Experts are optimistic that the virus will be well-controlled following the discontinuation of the LAIV nasal spray.
Pharmacists’ predictions for the flu season are very similar to that of last week’s physician group. While many pharmacists seemed to base their perceptions on the number of vaccines they administer or the antiviral prescription requests they receive, several respondents interestingly cited media coverage as a source of key predictive information. With nothing in the news indicating a vaccine shortage or an exceptionally high number of influenza cases, pharmacists have no reason to expect a particularly dramatic spike in the number of patients suffering this winter.
Pharmacists and physicians also agree on the many ways patients benefit from the increased availability of the vaccine. As one pharmacist from Pennsylvania with 36 years of experience summarized, “[At the pharmacy, there is] easy access. No sick patients in the waiting room, no appointment needed, no copay”. All of these healthcare professionals appreciate that patients are more likely to take this preventative step when it is made more convenient.
But that is where the similarities between these two reports end. Nearly half of pharmacists (49%) stated that they found no drawbacks to patients receiving flu vaccines from pharmacies and grocery stores as opposed to in a medical office. This is in direct contrast to the physicians who stressed lack of documentation, disruption of the patient-physician relationship and decreased patient follow-up as serious limitations to the process of offering flu care at alternative locations. Pharmacists are not oblivious to these issues, as 17% acknowledged the difficulty in keeping a patient’s chart up to date. Explained one pharmacist from Texas who has practiced for a year, “most patients do not know their doctor’s contact information at the time of the shot, so it is up to them to alert their providers”. Patients do not always remember or see the importance of disclosing this information, and many fail to contact their physicians.
A disadvantage exclusive to the pharmacist reports: almost 30% indicated that patients go without the minimum level of privacy when obtaining their shot outside of the medical office. Statements indicated that patients may be asked to remove their clothing in aisles or public bathrooms and receive their shots among other pharmacy customers. Beyond the obvious concerns about HIPAA infractions these practices raise, very little focused assessment of patients is possible prior to and following flu injection. Additionally, certain pharmacists found the procedure disruptive to their own work, citing excessive paperwork following vaccination and frustrating unpredictability in terms of patient frequency.
Physicians and pharmacists are consistent in their impressions of the upcoming flu season, the benefits of increased patient exposure to the flu vaccine and the deterrents for patients to obtain the vaccine. But this new pharmacist data adds invaluable insight into the risks and issues that surround the patient experience when obtaining these vaccines in a nontraditional setting. The overarching message in our findings is clear: if physician-pharmacist communication improves and patient opportunities for privacy increase, more patients may feel moved to get vaccinated.
Missed our physicians’ perspectives on the flu vaccine? Find it here.