Conference Coverage

ACP roadmap to raise adult immunization rates



A national practice transformation initiative aimed at increasing laggardly adult immunization rates and reducing health disparities has scored an impressive success in a pilot project carried out in seven rural southwestern Georgia counties.

Dr. Frances E. Ferguson, an internist at Albany Georgia Primary Health Center Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Frances E. Ferguson

“We saw increases of 52%-93% in our pneumococcal vaccination rates in our nine adult medicine clinics,” Frances E. Ferguson, MD, said at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

The project, conducted through the ACP’s quality improvement program, known as Quality Connect, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has as its ultimate goal making adult immunization standard practice across the country in general internal medicine and primary care. One of the initial pilot projects was conducted at Albany (Ga.) Area Primary Health Care, a federally qualified community health center with 28 service delivery sites in seven mainly rural southwestern Georgia counties. The majority of the center’s patients are at or below the poverty level. The lessons learned from this and other successful local projects will be disseminated nationally, according to Dr. Ferguson, a general internist at the health center.

The project utilizes the ACP Quality Connect “Plan, Do, Study, Act” approach to implementing constructive changes in medical practice, coupled with an abundance of resources readily available from the nonprofit Immunization Action Coalition, which has been funded by the CDC for more than 20 years.

The coalition’s website includes easily downloadable and custom-modifiable standing orders, plain-language information handouts on pneumococcal pneumonia and other vaccine-preventable illnesses and possible vaccine side effects for patients to read in the waiting room before their office visit, concise CDC-standardized talking points for providers to use in convincing patients to get vaccinated, as well as a detailed 10-point action plan for medical practice leadership to make it all happen.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this. You just go to their website,” Dr. Ferguson explained.

She cited her personal experience as representative of that of her fellow general internists who got on board with the project’s goal. As of April 2016, just before rollout of the pilot project, Dr. Ferguson’s pneumococcal vaccination rate stood at 22.5%. One month into the project, her vaccination rate had zoomed to 60%. When the formal pilot project ended in February 2017, her rate was 88.2%, an absolute 65.7% increase in 10 months. And since the pilot project’s conclusion, adult pneumococcal vaccination rates across Albany Area Primary Health Care have continued to climb.

“We have continued to improve because our champions are still in place, and our standing orders are, too,” she noted.

Standing orders are at the core of the project’s success, according to Dr. Ferguson. They provide nurses with the legal authority to determine if a patient is eligible for a vaccine and to go ahead and give it before seeing the physician.

“The most important thing for me is that nurses are an essential and invaluable asset to your practice, especially when you empower them to function fully within the scope of their practice. They can do amazing things. I just feel like the nurses are the winners here. We are winners because of our nurses,” she said.

It wasn’t easy at first, Dr. Ferguson recalled.

“We had pushback from nurses because they were afraid to do anything without the doctor directly telling them to do it. And we had physicians who didn’t want to have standing orders because they didn’t want anybody to do anything until they told them to. But we managed to get all that straightened out in the first month,” according to the internist.

Other keys to the program’s success included designating champions of the project at every clinic. Often this was the director of nursing, who was appointed to be in charge of the standing orders program. This “champions” concept is detailed in the ACP Quality Connect website. The champion – Dr. Ferguson was one – gets staff buy in on promoting the importance of immunizations, teaches strategies, and engages in community outreach.

“They lead the practice in the quality improvement project. We found that was very important, to have someone at each site who could keep the fire under the staff, keep the project going even when it’s very busy and everybody’s running around. There has to be someone there who’s encouraging people to remember to keep giving immunizations in spite of everything that’s going on that day,” she explained.

A central principle of successful quality improvement programs is accurate performance data gathering and dissemination. “Doctors are very competitive people,” Dr. Ferguson observed. “When I tell you you’re not doing as well as your colleagues and I can show you a graph that shows how far you are lagging behind, you get the fire under you and get moving.”

Audience members were agog at the community health center’s stratospheric vaccination rates. What about all the vaccine skeptics? they asked.

“I think for us it’s a matter of trust,” she replied. “We are a community health center and many of our patients and our providers have been with us for a long time. The nursing staff live in those communities, so the patients know them well. The CDC’s cards with talking points are a big help. I take the time to talk to patients and explain how the vaccine is going to build an army of immunologic protection. There are always going to be the diehards who say, ‘My cousin’s foot fell off when he got the pneumonia vaccine,’ though. You can’t get past those people. There’s just nothing you can say to them that will change their mind.”

She reported having no financial conflicts regarding her presentation or the adult immunization initiative.

Next Article:

Primary efficacy not met by new M. tuberculosis vaccine strategies

Related Articles