November 20, 2009

Swine Flu Frenzy?

This post is authored by Aviva Bellman, Bread for the City's medical clinic coordinator.

Media reports about the H1N1 vaccination have painted a scary picture. For instance, a recent Washington Post article quoted a doctor describing "an unprecedented amount of verbal abuse" at medical clinics; another indicated that supplies are being underutilized in some parts of the city. Confusion abounds.

Some people are over-eager to get vaccinated, fearful that there isn’t enough to go around. Other people fear that the vaccine may actually be harmful. It isn't. But this makes for a very stressful and confusing time for both patients and health-care providers.

And yet, I am happy to report that at Bread for the City, things are proceeding relatively well!

To be sure, this season is challenging: we are much busier than usual. H1N1 vaccination has significantly increased the number of walk-in visits, at times with entire families walking in mid-clinic. Vaccinations are eating up break time and sometimes keep the staff working late.

At the same time, we do not have limitless amounts of the vaccine - and according to CDC guidelines, we can only vaccinate people who fit into key vulnerable groups (including young people, ages 6 months to 24 years old; people who have certain chronic illnesses including asthma, diabetes, and HIV; pregnant women; caregivers to infants; and healthcare workers ourselves).

But I have yet to see a patient be upset when informed that he or she cannot get the vaccine. And, though some qualifying patients do end up opting out of the vaccine, we are fairly effective at explaining to at-risk patients that it is not only safe but important to their health.

This level of communication is deliberately fostered through our model as a medical home. Unlike “drive by” medical providers like health fairs and mass vaccination sites, a medical home allows for strong relationships to develop between people and their doctors. Our patients meet with staff members whom they know and trust, and who take the time to explain they people don't qualify for the vaccine, or why it's important for them to take it. Generally, our patients trust us in either case.

As a matter of fact, last week we received word that the DC Department of Health (DOH) "will be adjusting its current H1N1 vaccine clinic schedule, by reducing the number of free H1N1 vaccine clinic locations for priority groups in the District and increasing the amount of vaccine available at doctor’s offices and community health centers." This means, presumably, that medical homes and other community clinics will have more capacity to vaccinate more people. At BFC, we think that is a very good thing indeed.

(For more about Bread for the City's medical homes model, watch this video below.)

No comments: