Using technology to improve vaccine coverage
The announcement that a vaccine for COVID-19 is ready is one that has brought much relief to many persons around the world. Vaccines have, for decades, been one of the best tools to prevent certain diseases.
Since Jamaica began its vaccine programme, the country has been successful in eliminating or significantly reducing the occurrence of certain vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines work, and there is no doubt about that. We have made remarkable progress and our vaccine programme has consistently attained high percentages in terms of the number of persons who are vaccinated.
While the programme has made strides with children and adolescent vaccination, adult vaccination remains a challenge. Technology can improve the level of vaccine uptake as well as the information dissemination and knowledge around vaccines. More and more research has been aimed at the extent to which technology can assist in improving vaccine coverage.
THE ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORD
Stockwell and Fiks posit that, “Health information technology (IT) interventions can facilitate the rapid or real-time identification of children in need of vaccination and provide the foundation for vaccine-oriented parental communication or clinical alerts in a flexible and tailored manner. There has been a small but burgeoning field of work integrating IT into vaccination interventions, including reminder/recall using non-traditional methods, clinical decision support for providers in the electronic health record, use of technology to affect workflow, and the use of social media.”
It is clear then that we already possess the technology that will aid in this process. The way we utilise them will make the impact. The Electronic Medical Record (EMR), for example, is available and is being used by the University Hospital of the West Indies through its Health Information Management System. Many other hospitals, including those in the public sector, are gearing up to follow suit. In addition, private doctors’ offices are opting to digitise their business and quite a few have already done so.
The EMR is an effective healthcare tracking system for individuals and communities with easy access to historical data and analysis to determine a person’s health path. EMR can provide data on an individual from the first vaccine or interface with the health system to their last. It can also ensure that alerts and follow-ups are done in a timely and efficient manner. Every physician that a person visits at any facility that is digitised can potentially have this information to ensure continuity of care.
Vaccine education for adults is lacking in our environment since most of the focus tends to be on children. Where health literacy and information dissemination is concerned, through the EMR, doctors could easily provide information through their digitally networked system, through the availability of a comprehensive National Patient Record database. This data can therefore be personalised and provide general information, timelines and due dates for vaccines for adults and children.
Mobile applications can also aid in this process. The industry for mobile applications has grown tremendously over the years and is expected to continue to do so.
According to Allied Market Research, “The global mobile application market size was valued at $106.27 billion in 2018, and projected to reach $407.31 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.4 per cent from 2019 to 2026” – www.alliedmarketresearch.com. Mobile apps have been leveraged in almost every industry and research has been conducted in how they can also improve vaccination coverage.
According to Wilson, Atkinson and Westeinde, in their study titled ‘Apps for immunisation: Leveraging mobile devices to place the individual at the centre of care’, “The advantage of apps, being personally focused and permitting bidirectional communication, make them well suited to address many immunisation challenges … mobile apps offer the potential to improve the quality of information residing in immunisation information systems and programme evaluation, facilitate harmonisation of immunisation information between individuals, healthcare providers and public health, as well as reduce vaccine hesitancy.” – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
There is much that technology can do to improve healthcare, including vaccination education and delivery. Our vaccine programme is among one of the best in the region, but think about how much more we could achieve far beyond our current standards if we fully introduce technology as part of the process.