When news of the first COVID-19 vaccine gaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval came December 2020, it was met with a mixture of relief and excitement across the healthcare landscape. But, amidst the cheers came the realization that state and local governments, hospitals, pharmacies and other key vaccine administration stakeholders would have to manage what would be an intricate and complex process to ensure 60% to 70% of the country could be vaccinated as quickly as possible. Managing such an undertaking requires technologies that can support stakeholders in both a timely and scalable manner.1,2
“COVID-19 has been, in my opinion, one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever faced as a global community – and the vaccine is at the heart of our recovery from this pandemic,” said Renee Patton, Global Director Healthcare, Cisco. “We’ve experienced tremendous loss over the past 10 months and different communities have been disproportionately impacted. And, as we now shift our focus to rolling out the vaccine, we need to facilitate an inclusive recovery, meaning, we need technology that can work with governments, healthcare providers, pharmacies, such as Walgreens, and communities to ensure they have a safe and effective administration of these vaccines.”
As it stands, Patton said vaccine administration stakeholders need information technology (IT) platforms that can address three primary challenges:
· Patient access and outreach
· Secure connectivity
· Appropriate monitoring and storage of vaccines
“This vaccine is essential – it’s the first step to that road to inclusive recovery that we need,” she said. “With so much hanging in the balance, we need to make sure we are doing it right.”
Scaling up communications
As states began to receive allotments of COVID-19 vaccines, doctors and pharmacies received a deluge of calls from patients about eligibility for vaccination – as well as how to schedule and where to go for an appointment. At the same time, healthcare organizations (HCOs) are working hard to ensure those in the most vulnerable patient populations can be vaccinated first. Managing patient access and outreach is a top challenge, according to Patton.
“The process, right now, is leading to more questions than answers,” she said. “People want to know what phase they are in, how to make an appointment and why they haven’t heard from their doctors about the vaccine yet. This endeavor requires massive coordination and accurate communications with patients and the greater community for it to work.”
Contact center technologies that can quickly and easily be scaled to meet evolving communication needs are essential to managing this level of uncertainty. They offer HCOs, as well as public health entities, the ability to securely stand up call centers and other communication efforts that harness automation and artificial intelligence features to take the burden off the human agents answering the flood of calls.
“Having cloud-based technology gives you the ability to quickly scale existing operations and set up call centers in record time,” Patton said. “Having that kind of speed to execute is very important under these circumstances.”
Establishing secure connections
As HCOs consider setting up COVID-19 vaccination sites in unorthodox places – a variety of both public and private spaces are being considered, ranging from parking garages to sports stadiums – providers also have secure connectivity on their minds. Vaccine administrators will need to document who has received which dose (i.e., first or second) when and port that information, whenever possible, to an individual’s electronic health record (EHR) or to a public health agency database.
“At Renown Health, based out of Nevada, we worked with them to deploy solutions that helped build a temporary field hospital in a parking garage in just 10 days,” Patton said. “They are using WiFi analytics to not just monitor and more efficiently track the temperature and locations of medications, but also to connect patients to the necessary data to ensure a secure administration of the vaccination.”
Only organizations with strong, secure core IT infrastructures will be able to reliably manage that process, she continued: “Over the last nine months, many organizations have gotten experience in building a network infrastructure to manage capacity at field hospitals, temporary clinics and pop-up testing sites – as well as to connect isolated patients to loved ones and enable telehealth at a massive scale. Those same cloud-based tools can be used to ensure safe and secure vaccine administration sites and clinics, where there will be the connectivity to support scheduling and administration, as well as documenting vaccine administration-related information. Having the power of 5G and WiFi makes it easier to connect to patient records, as well as to healthcare staff, to track and administer these vaccines safely and securely – especially as each patient needs to get two doses.”
Appropriate storage and monitoring
Another challenge the healthcare industry faces is guaranteeing that these precious vaccines can be appropriately transported, stored and monitored, as they require strict temperature controls. Again, said Patton, here is a place where the right technologies matter.
“The internet of things is going to play a vital role in this process, empowering temperature monitors on refrigeration units,” she said. “You will need the infrastructure and technology to enable sensors and cameras on vaccine storage facilities. You need those things to do real-time tracking of the fleet of planes, trains and trucks carrying the vaccine to different vaccination sites. So, having secure, reliable remote observation solutions can make this kind of real-time monitoring possible.”
Moving toward an inclusive recovery
As key stakeholders continue to evolve their strategies to enable what will be a complex vaccine rollout, Patton said providers that work with a trusted technology partner, who is experienced in deploying safe and secure network infrastructures, to meet these challenges, will have greater success. By working with these partners, HCOs can be certain they will have the transparency, accountability and trust to support the needs of their patient populations as they embark on this critical endeavor.
“By working with partners who can help you create simple, effective and integrated solutions, you can be sure you can get these vaccination sites set up both quickly and securely,” she said. “Cisco’s mission is to power an inclusive future – and technology has a huge role to play in delivering this vaccine that will help to fuel our recovery.”
Learn more here about how Cisco is leading COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategies.
1. Borenstein, J., and Weintraub, R. 2020. Rolling out the COVID vaccine is a huge IT challenge. Harvard Business Review. Dec. 21. https://hbr.org/2020/12/rolling-out-the-covid-vaccine-is-a-huge-it-challenge.
2. Jercich, K. 2021. States rely on wide range of IT systems to manage COVID-19 vaccines. Healthcare IT News. Jan. 14. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/states-rely-wide-range-it-systems-manage-covid-19-vaccines.