The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published guidelines on recommended immunization schedules by age group, but for many Americans, additional information from a provider can help deepen understanding. Through established patient-provider relationships and medical knowledge, clinicians are in a unique position to educate patients about health decisions, including vaccinations, and research shows that patients value the advice.
The impact of a provider recommendation
Despite growing amounts of information on the Internet, patients remain highly trusting of their own doctors, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. This trust applies to the realm of immunizations as well. In a review of patients 66 and older, nearly every patient who received the flu vaccine reported receiving a recommendation from their physician. Meanwhile, 37% of unvaccinated patients reported never receiving a recommendation.
Other studies have confirmed the positive impact of providers in vaccination decisions. In a study published in Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, parents cited recommendations from their family physician as one of the top reasons their adolescent child had received all of the age-appropriate and CDC-recommended immunizations. By engaging patients and their parents, providers can ensure awareness of immunization schedules and improve overall vaccination rates.
While providers remain a trusted source of information for vaccination decisions, they also may compete with emerging media in a digitally-focused America. More frequently, patients are turning to online resources for health information. In a study published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 53.5% of respondents reported that they used the Internet for medical information. Of that group, “60% felt that the information on the Internet was the ‘same as’ or ‘better than’ information from their doctors,” and 59% did not discuss the information with their doctor, the study reported.
A separate study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research revealed that patients may be afraid or hesitant to discuss health information they found online with their provider. Patient visits are an important chance for providers to engage patients. Allowing time for discussion during an appointment can help providers facilitate patient questions about information they may have discovered online, and gives providers the opportunity to clarify potential misinformation.
Making a clear recommendation
The CDC has developed a guide for effective provider recommendation techniques to help patients make informed decisions about vaccinations. The guide encourages providers to offer tailored reasons why recommended vaccines are right for them, highlight positive experiences with vaccines, address questions and concerns, and explain the potential costs of contracting the disease.
Communicating with patients about vaccines between appointments, using an Electronic Health System or email system, can also keep vaccines top of mind, helping patients make them a continued part of their care.
Providers are a valuable resource to patients for medical information and have the potential to make a great impact on patient vaccination rates. Through routine assessments of patient vaccine needs and personalized recommendations, providers can help their patients maintain strong vaccination coverage and live a healthier lifestyle.