Annual flu clinics can be critical in protecting your workforce and your business’ bottom line.
Fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose. Muscle aches, headache, extreme fatigue. For anyone who’s ever suffered through seasonal flu – an acute respiratory infection caused by one or more influenza viruses that circulate within our communities – its effects are hard to forget.
And yet, despite our collective experience battling this illness, seasonal flu continues to wreak considerable havoc both on individual wellness, as well as on our business continuity and productivity.
Why should employers care about the flu?
It’s estimated that seasonal flu impacts approx. 1 billion people globally each year, contributing to between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths. When considering workplace settings specifically, the impacts aren’t much better.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 27 and 54 million Americans will contract the flu over the 2022-2023 season. Consequently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reports that flu-related absenteeism results in approximately 111 million lost workdays per year, costing the U.S. economy over $80 billion.
And while all demographic groups are susceptible to the flu, individuals in some workplace cohorts are at higher risk of developing complications if they get sick, including those over 65 years of age, along with people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease and asthma.
So, when we consider what business leaders can do to ward off the worst effects that the flu can exert upon their organizations, health experts suggest that the best approach is to get ahead of the disease by ensuring employees have adequate access to vaccines before the flu season gets started.
Flu Vaccination: Benefits and Challenges
Every year, pharmaceutical companies remake their flu vaccines to protect against virus variants most likely to spread in the upcoming flu season. This “reinventing the wheel” approach is necessary since the flu virus frequently mutates to evade the human immune system. So, while a certain vaccine might be effective in preventing illness one flu season, there’s no way to guarantee that efficacy will extend into the next.
Interestingly, that could change in the future as medical researchers work to develop a universal vaccine that would provide protection against most – if not all – strains of the virus. At the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), new flu vaccines, designed with the same mRNA technology that brought about recent COVID-19 vaccines, are under review. If successful, NIAID leaders say the medical breakthrough could eventually lead to a multi-year shot that would make annual flu vaccinations all but unnecessary.
And the prospect of a multi-year vaccinations is particularly intriguing when we consider current flu vaccination rates. According to health experts, less than 50 percent of U.S. adults are vaccinated against the flu each year. Opinion polls show that up to 40% of adults regularly do not receive the flu shot, with many explaining that they avoid the shot because they believe it’s not needed, not ineffective, or simply too inconvenient to get.
But the CDC estimates that by increasing flu vaccinations by just another 5%, between 4,000 and 10,000 hospitalizations per flu season could be avoided. This obviously could be incredibly helpful to minimize both illness-related work absenteeism, along with the added strain placed upon the broader health care system.
The Value of Workplace Flu Clinics
So, as a multi-year flu vaccine is not yet available, we will continue to rely on annual flu shots to protect ourselves from the worst effects the illness has to offer.
For businesses that want to reduce their risk of illness-related absenteeism and its associated productivity losses, there are only two real options available: a) encourage employees to get their yearly shots at local pharmacies or medical professionals in their communities, or b) take matters into your own hands and administer vaccinations through workplace-based flu clinics.
Notably, the CDC advocates heavily in this latter approach, listing the numerous benefits that can be realized from workplace flu clinics for employers and employees alike, including:
- Reduced productivity impacts by decreasing employees’ time spent away from work to get vaccinated;
- Decreased operating costs associated with lower illness-related absenteeism and related medical expenses;
- Increases in employee morale and productivity; and
- Eliminating barriers to vaccine adoption as costs are covered by employer health plans.
Moreover, the CDC acknowledges that workplace vaccination clinics can help eliminate workforce vaccine hesitancy, especially where organizational leaders actively promote and visibly demonstrate their commitment to occupational wellness by getting vaccinated first.
A study published in Clinical Medicine in 2017 investigated the relationship between sickness-related worker absences and employee vaccination rates. The researchers reviewed the health records of approximately 800,000 staff at the National Health Service (NHS), the United Kingdom’s public healthcare system.Based on their analysis of data collected in each of four flu seasons from 2011 through 2015, the researchers found that during mild flu seasons:
- Roughly 23% of healthcare workers were infected with flu
- Increasing the flu vaccination rate by 10% was associated with a 10% decrease in the illness-related absence rate
Navigating the Common Challenges Associated with Administering Flu Clinics
Companies that opt to heed the CDC’s advice and administer on-site flu clinics must navigate common barriers to ensure vaccinations can be delivered efficiently and effectively.
Let’s look at five of the biggest challenges organizations can expect to face when delivering flu vaccinations to their staff:
1. Scaling the clinical team
It’s not uncommon for organizations to staff a small clinician team tasked to deliver occupational health services to their workforce that may number in the thousands. While that clinician-to-employee ratio may be manageable at most other times of the year, the influx of patients during flu clinics can quickly become unsustainable if the organization cannot easily onboard new clinicians to service the increased demand.
In this respect, organizations who are considering running flu clinics need to be able to scale up their clinic teams quickly and get new occupational health staff quickly onboarded and trained on company processes to optimize program efficiency.
2. Clinical charting
Occupational health staff delivering vaccines are required to collect specific employee health data, including health histories or information on drug allergies and current medications, to help them rule out potentially dangerous complications that could result from flu vaccinations.
In most cases, that information is provided to the health professional at the time an employee sits down to get their shot, which must in turn be documented on paper or in an electronic solution. In either case, charting this information creates a considerable administrative burden upon the clinician, which can easily pull these personnel resources away from the most important task – administering vaccines. Focusing on process improvements that can reduce the charting burden is a critical point that should be considered early in flu campaign design.
3. Compliance reporting
Data collection during flu clinics is critical, as organizations are often required to share vaccination data with local or regional regulatory agencies, within specific time frames. Where data is collected manually on paper records, aggregating that information in a quick and accurate manner, and transcribing it into the applicable forms or templates required by regulators can be an absolute administrative nightmare. Moreover, without rigorous controls to validate the quality and completeness of that data, the risk of regulatory non-compliance is ever-present.
4. Inventory management
The ability to deliver flu shots is directly related to the availability of vaccines at the workplace. Getting individuals into clinics only to discover that you’ve run out of flu shots is a recipe for disaster – not only are workers not vaccinated, but the whole ordeal may get them to think twice about participating in future flu clinics. Unfortunately, reliance on overly manual inventory management processes introduces the very real threat of vaccine stockouts without giving the organization enough time to order additional supplies to meet expected demand.
5. Employee participation
Workplace flu clinics are only effective if your employees actually visit the clinic. And as we’ve discussed, getting them to participate in flu clinics, and more importantly to come back the following year, is dependent on the overall ‘patient experience’ – how easy did we make it for employees to get their flu shot?
Unfortunately, many organizations are plagued with overly manual processes – everything from long wait times in clinics, to the ability to easily schedule appointments, to the frustration with filling multiple forms before being able to get their shot – all of which negatively impacts that patient experience and may cause individuals to reconsider getting the flu shot in the future.
How Software Can Streamline Flu Clinic Administration
For those organizations looking for guidance on how to best navigate these challenges, they are encouraged to refer to the CDC’s Best Practices Checklist for workplace flu vaccination programs.
Beyond these best practices, organizations can realize considerable time and cost savings, while maximizing workforce participation, in flu clinicians by leveraging occupational health software platforms, specifically those with pre-built flu vaccination management tools. These software solutions offer numerous benefits including:
Automation of clinical workflows: Through configurable business rules, organizations can automate specific notifications to remind employees of scheduled vaccination appointments, reducing the risk of no-shows, while removing the need for clinical staff to contact each employer (and/or their supervisor) directly of their flu shot appointment. And once an employee receives their shot, their next year’s vaccination is automatically scheduled. Similarly, by automating reporting workflows, organizations never need to worry about missing regulatory reporting deadlines, and the associated compliance risks that can result.
Reducing charting efforts: Software helps reduce clinical charting efforts, eliminating administration and freeing up clinicians to deliver more vaccinations. With drop-down menus and pre-configured tables, software can simplify patient charting, while reducing manual data entry errors that can carry through to regulatory compliance reporting. By partially automating the uptake of clinical documentation needed to ensure that shots are administered safely, such solutions can facilitate higher clinic throughput while reducing costs and improving workforce protection.
Optimizing vaccine inventory management: With software, organizations can easily digitize their inventory management of flu vaccines. That inventory can be easily linked to patient charting protocols, such that when a flu shot is administered, and a dose is recorded against a patient record, that dose is automatically deducted from the clinic’s overall vaccine inventory. By integrating the occupational health software to procurement systems, once the vaccine inventory falls below a set threshold, the system can automatically alert health clinic staff of an impending vaccine shortage and automatically place a vaccine order to restock the supply. In this respect, the clinic never needs to worry about stockouts that could compromise their ability to deliver immunizations to interested employees.
Enhancing decision making through better data visibility: The real value in adopting software for your vaccination program is the speed at which your collected data can be analyzed to provide the organization with meaningful insights to drive decision-making, identify problems and take immediate action. Technology-enabled flu immunization programs can help business leaders better visualize data to show how the organization is acting proactively to manage the risks and limit the chances of influenza disrupting business operations. Anything that reduces the time and effort to help collect and transform your data into a compelling story will be immensely helpful.
Improving employee engagement: Health software platforms are giving organizations more tools to make it easier for employees to request, and receive, annual flu vaccinations. Mobile apps are now offering self-scheduling capabilities that allow employees to book appointments at preferred times and locations, while also enabling employees to provide health history before their appointment, fast-tracking their flu shot, and getting them through the clinic and back to work faster. By giving workers more control over these health-based decisions, we can create a more engaging, personalized, and memorable patient experience that will encourage employees to come back for their shot next year.
Vaccination Management with Cority
Leveraging Cority’s pre-built workflows and tools to simplify immunization campaigns, a key hospital-based client realized a 99.5% response rate in their 2020 season flu campaign, while using Cority’s out-of-box features to track vaccination status, manage vaccine inventories and easily submit immunization reports to the U.S. National Hospital Safety Network (NHSN).
If there’s anything certain about seasonal flu, it’s the fact that it’s coming around again real soon. The impact on individual health and business continuity cannot be underestimated, the statistics of flu-related illnesses and the associated economic costs are revealing, and employers play a significant role.
One powerful tool to combat the effects of the flu for both the individual and business is vaccination, and workplace flu clinics are a practical approach to improving vaccination rates. However, to succeed, organizations must overcome common challenges associated with administering flu clinics. Adopting occupational health software has proven to help.
While no company can avoid the flu altogether, with a workplace vaccination clinic optimized with occupational health software, organizations can take proactive steps to protect their workforce, improve overall wellness, and maintain business continuity in the face of the flu season.