EHRs Make Flu Shot Reminders Easier

Parmeeth M.S. Atwal | January 13, 2012

Have you had your flu shot yet? Have your patients? Some people just automatically make an appointment or stop at a local pharmacy to get their flu shots. But others—including those at high risk for flu complications—need flu shot reminders

But ensuring that all patients—especially those in high-risk groups—get a flu shot is not always a simple matter. Electronic health records (EHRs) can help by automating flu shot reminders and making it easier to identify patients who are in most need of the protection flu shots afford. 

Easier flu shot reminders

Practices can set up their EHR to automatically send out letters or secure email to all patients to remind them to come in for flu shots.

Dr. Lloyd Fisher, a pediatrician with Reliant Medical Group in Worcester, MA, plans to use this feature not just for flu shots but also for other preventive care and screenings.

“We are developing automated letters and emails through our secure patient portal to alert parents when their children are due for a variety of preventive care tests and procedures, including influenza vaccines,” says Dr. Fisher. 

Prioritizing flu shot distribution

While there have been no reports of flu vaccine shortages this year, it’s still most important to vaccinate those at highest risk for flu complications. EHRs can generate lists of patients in certain demographics (under 5 or over 65) or with underlying medical conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions) or who are pregnant. Then practice staff can focus their outreach efforts on getting those patients in for vaccination first.

Dr. Christopher Tashjian, a family physician based in rural Ellsworth, WI, is using the data generated by his EHR to proactively reach out to patients with heart disease and diabetes who have not received the flu vaccine to advise them to come in for a flu shot, concentrating on the rest of his patient population according to risk and other chronic illnesses. He stated: “We could never do this kind of management with paper [records]!”

“EHRs are perfect for this sort of thing,” says Dr. Jen Brull, a family physician based in Plainville, KS. “With one push of a button, we know who needs our efforts and can target the population from top to bottom.” 

Prompting clinicians to offer patients flu shots

Patients are not the only ones who could use flu shot reminders. EHR systems can alert providers when a patient has not yet received a flu shot. Providers can then follow-up and ensure their patients are getting the right care at the right time. 

Coordinating data with state immunization directories

The availability of flu shots at the workplace or even in shopping malls and at grocery stores makes it easier for people to easily get the vaccination.

But, this new convenience can make it more difficult for primary care providers to track who has received the shot and who needs a flu shot reminder. EHRs can be set up to automatically send data to immunization registries, which help keep all the records up-to-date.

“When we record our immunizations in our EHR, this information automatically goes into the state’s immunization registry,” says Dr. Tashjian.

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How is your practice using health IT to prepare for flu season? Does your EHR generate flu shot reminders? Use the comment section below to share your stories. We want to hear from you!