Using teams to improve immunization rates

Interprofessional education (IPE) is defined as “when students from two or more professions learn from, about, and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes” (WHO, 2010).  The key to IPE is all three prepositions occurring within a session.  So IPE is NOT a traditional lecture when one profession speaks to another profession (or even multiple professions).

The concept of IPE also applies to health professionals, as IPE is considered a lifelong learning process. Just think about this analogy – a football coach would not put his or her team on the field to play before practicing. Also, the players have the opportunity to practice their plays before the big game throughout the season with coaching.  It is easy to see that students need formal training and time to practice team-based skills during school and after graduation providers/professionals need to continue refining collaborative practice skills, especially because we find ourselves on so many different teams.

This blog is an attempt to provide a platform to discuss what is happening at LSU Health New Orleans and how you as a health professional or a health organization/system can join in the interprofessional education and collaborative practice international movement!

In January 2017, all first year students (about 750 of them), representing over 20 health professions, gathered to discuss how, as a team, they could address the concerns parents had about vaccinations. We selected the topic because vaccinations are one of the most successful public health achievements, “preventing approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with net savings of nearly $14 billion in direct costs and $69 billion in total societal costs” (www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6019a5.htm).

However, there are parents who are concerned about the side-effects of vaccinations, and there are parents who are requesting for their vaccinated children to not be surrounded by non-vaccinated children in medical waiting rooms (remember we all have waiting rooms, so this concept applies to us all).  So how can an interprofessional team of health professionals address the concerns of all parents?

First, everyone has to recognize the lack of scientific research supporting potential undesired effects of immunizations (http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452.full). Second, there are some health providers who think the topic of immunizations does not apply to them and only nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physicians and public health professionals have a role.  This type of thought process does not support team-based care as we all have a role in improving the health and well-being of the individuals we encounter. So what can we ALL do?

  • Ask “Are you up-to-date with your immunizations?”  Now this can be tricky as we do not want to keep asking the patients/clients we see the same question if we know the answer.  One way to find the answer is through LINKS (Louisiana Immunization Network for Kids Statewide).  LINKS is a web application that allows approved professionals to view and/or edit immunization records.
  • Commit to recording immunizations in LINKS.  This would be a great way to avoid asking the patient the same question.  This can be a challenge because not all providers place immunization records in LINKS.  As a health professional, you can work with your office, department, and/or organization and make a commitment to view immunization records prior to seeing patients.  Just remember, sometimes a patient sees his/her dentist, pharmacist, or physical therapist more times a year than a primary care provider….YES…we are all in this together!
  • Obtain access to LINKS, contact your respective LA Department of Health representative  – the information is located at the bottom of the webpage. Most providers who do not give immunizations will not have access to LINKS, but having access is important to a team approach to improving immunization rates.
  • Encourage patients/clients to access MyIR.net, an electronic portal which provides immunization records if healthcare providers enter the information in LINKS. Registering for access in MyIR.net is dependent on correct contact information.  So if you have difficulty viewing your/your family records, contact your primary care provider office to ensure your contact information is up-to-date in LINKS.
  • Educate patients on the importance of immunizations.  Use these resources for support Healthy People 2020 and Immunization Action Coalition

There are many other ways, WE as a TEAM of health professionals working in separate buildings, offices, cities, and towns can help to promote vaccinations.  One idea is to partner with your local pharmacist, urgent care, primary care provider, or hospital.  If you have an independent clinic, ask an approved provider to offer flu shots at your facility once a week.  Simply dedicate a private space to them and let your patients/clients know that your office will be offering flu shots. Making it easier/improving access for the patient to receive better healthcare is simply that easy!

What other ideas do you have about working as a team across all health professions to improve immunizations rate?  Please share them so we can all learn together.

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