Flu Clinic: 5-Step Patient Engagement Guide during COVID


Flu clinic workflows and patient engagement has changed during the pandemic. Health systems are adapting to the new normal while trying to rebuild new processes and protocols to ensure patients are getting preventative care in the midst of COVID. As Fall approaches, new fears have surfaced about Flu Season hitting us at the same time as a potential second COVID wave.

Health systems are now trying to administer these flu clinics often outside and in environments not typically associated with delivering patient care. They spend energy and resources to build the clinic processes, but how do they ensure that patients will feel safe showing up?

The Problem – Preventative Care vs. Public Fear During Global Pandemic

The CDC is concerned that Flu and Covid19 may overwhelm our healthcare systems this fall. Both happening simultaneously would result in increased illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. People have been avoiding necessary preventative care – including flu vaccinations – for fear of contracting Coronavirus. Healthcare systems need to re-engineer their workflows not only to minimize spread, but also to visibly alleviate this public fear of engaging in healthcare. 

Across the country, we are seeing pop-up clinics with social distancing and masking guidelines. These new workflows help to rebuild public trust, but these types of alternative delivery models need to be well planned and executed. Along with logistical and operational changes, patients need education on how to get care in these curbside clinics.  Meaningful patient outreach and engagement is essential.  

The Need – Patient Education to Build Trust and Confidence

Satellite, drive-up clinics allow social distancing. It has become common to see lines of cars with patients waiting for COVID testing. This model is now successfully being used for preventative vaccination clinics. As a result, patients experience benefits from the operational changes necessary for the clinics to be successful. 

  • Masked clinicians give shots to patients from the security of their cars
  • Satellite clinics can be held outside of clinic hours – evenings and weekends to keep office hours focused on follow up visits and other medical needs
  • Off-hours clinics allow patients flexibility in when and where they can get a flu shot
  • Reduced need for indoor COVID safety protocols like the time to disinfect exam rooms between patients 
  • Outdoor, socially distanced flu clinics may help healthcare organizations identify new best practices in screening for COVID19 as well as flu. 

Health systems may be well underway in managing their flu season, but many of our clients have shared logistical challenges with us in meeting this need. Inside clinics are fewer, and equipping outdoor facilities presents new challenges including tents for cover, approvals for parking lot use, staffing requirements, refrigeration for vaccine storage, and patient outreach. 

While we can’t help with the onsite logistical challenges, we do know how to do patient outreach. Flu Clinic success depends on educating patients about how, where, when, and why getting to the clinic is important.  

The Solution – Flu Clinic Omni-Channel Engagement Strategies

While it is unclear the effect the pandemic will have on 2020’s flu season, health systems are taking proactive steps to minimize impact. To help, we have a step-by-step guide to patient engagement and patient education. This guide includes omni-channel engagement strategies and considerations if changes need to be communicated to communities. 

Flu Clinic: 5-Step Guide to Omni-channel Patient Engagement During Pandemic

Step 1 – Proactive Community Education: Newsletter Announcement 

More than ever, patients are reading the newsletters and other communications from their providers and health systems. They seek information on COVID and other critical health information.  

We’ve worked with our clients to deliver prebuilt newsletter content announcing satellite clinics and educating communities about safe practices during COVID19. Clients have experienced higher open and click-thru rates during this pandemic, and patients can better plan to get a flu shot around schedules. 

Step 2 – Reactive Website / Portal Announcements 

While the newsletters can proactively push information out to the community, healthcare systems can also ensure information is readily available for patients who may not specifically be looking for the information. Portal adoption has increased year over year for bill pay, appointment scheduling, and other communications.  Healthcare marketers can also use the patient portal to keep relevant updates and clinic schedules readily available. The added benefit is, if patients are searching for information in the portal, they may also engage and schedule overdue preventative screenings. 

Step 3 – Personalized Outreach: SMS or Email based on patient preference 

The SymphonyRM AI platform listens to your patients’ engagement levels and interacts with people in their preferred communication channels. Personalizing follow up outreach allows patients to receive Flu Shot Clinic information via text or email – whichever they are more likely to engage.  

Our platform provides precision Next Best Action (NBA) Playbooks for preventative screenings as well as a digital library of prebuilt content. We’ve updated our flu shot NBA content for the current pandemic-environment. New content includes graphics with people wearing masks and socially distancing. The information also includes COVID–specific guidelines on how to stay healthy during flu season.

For patients who respond better to text messaging, shorter SMS content linked patients back to patient education on the websites. 

An important, SymphonyRM feature during COVID is that our AI helps identify and prioritize High Risk patients that are due for their flu shot.  Health systems identify these patients and implement patient-specific strategies to influence these vulnerable populations get the flu shot they need. Whether age-based or socio-economic factors, personalizing the communication method and message helps improve outcomes. 

Step 4 – Tracking Progress 

Healthcare marketers don’t often see direct results from their hard work. Patient engagement is hard to measure. However, this year knowing how much of your population has been vaccinated is important feedback. We’ve created client dashboards that can specifically show Flu Immunization NBA closure rates.  These closure rates track patients that booked flu immunization appts with their providers. The reporting also shows overall NBA closure rates capturing patients who went to retail outlets such as CVS, Walgreens for their flu immunization. 

Knowing the outcomes of the outreach can help providers determine the level of success and to make any decisions on extending or modifying campaign outreach. 

Step 5 – Change Management 

Clients have shared experiences with us about unplanned issues related to outdoor and offsite clinics. Road construction or burst water mains may prevent patients from getting to a clinic. Storms have caused clients to cancel or postpone their outdoor events. Regardless of what mother nature may have planned, the ability to quickly notify and instruct patients about change helps to ensure success. While it is impossible to anticipate every problem that could come up, we were able to help our clients quickly let patients know about the changes. For our clients, this meant that flu shot compliance AND patient satisfaction both increased. 

Client Results:  Increasing Flu Vaccine Compliance and Rebuilding Trust in Preventative Care 

Although we are still relatively early seeing results in Flu Season, clients have seen very high engagement rates with their targeted satellite clinic content. 

  • 25%+ open-rate means that patients are interested in education around Flu 
  • Average of Less than 6 days SMS to appointment tells us patients are being directed to the information they need 
  • 8%+ email click thru rates demonstrates how communication preferences drive engagement 
  • 15%+ Closed NBAs helps health systems know and manage to their progress 
  • Less than 3% No-Show Rate on booked appointments confirms that Change Management communications are effective

Furthermore, high SMS conversion rates and high “Click to Call” rates illustrate the consumer shift to SMS channels, even for healthcare. Engagement levels increase when patients have ease of use and ease of communication. Healthcare systems can use the best technology to reach patients in their preferred methods – thus reducing costs, improving outcomes and increasing patient satisfaction. 

No one can say for certain how Flu and COVID19 will behave when they collide this fall. Maybe social distancing protocols will help to also decrease the spread of flu. Or perhaps people may end up co-infected with both with the viruses co-circulating. We will likely see variations based on geography and socio-economic influences. With so many issues feeling outside of the control of health systems and their providers, patient outreach and engagement doesn’t have to be on that list of issues. There are best practice communication strategies already developed and already improving outcomes.