A Shot in the Arm for Flu Vaccine Clinics

November 15, 2007

On a recent trip to visit a client in Chicago, I noticed at O'Hare International Airport a booth set up to administer flu shots.

On a recent trip to visit a client in Chicago, I noticed at O'Hare International Airport a booth set up to administer flu shots. I was surprised to see how many people were taking advantage of this opportunity. My first reaction was to walk past the booth as I do to the other numerous vendors along the hallways. I was inclined to think that these flu shots were for the busy traveler. As a physician or office manager, your first reaction to this may be "Oh well, since they're too busy to come in for an appointment, getting their flu shot at the airport or drug store is fine with me." But much to my surprise, I noticed several elderly patients and families also stopping at the booth for their flu shots.

Since my flight was delayed, I decide to eavesdrop on the booth while eating my sandwich. The primary reason people took advantage of the opportunity? Convenience. Many people commented that it was far easier to stop at the booth than to call their doctor's office to schedule an appointment.

Indeed, the majority of practices today require their patients to call the office to schedule a flu shot appointment. Or worse yet, since offering these shots must be some big "hassle" for practices, offices have created the ever-popular "flu shot clinic," held once or twice during the appropriate months. Understand that the reason for this is that we want these "special" appointments to take place when we choose to make it as convenient for us as possible, which often means inconvenient to the patient. Small wonder, then, that impromptu flu shot clinics are popping up everywhere you can imagine, including drug stores, grocery stores, and airports. To suit ourselves and our own schedules, we've created a niche in the market, and we're losing out on a good source of income because of it.

Many medical practices believe that offering flu shots is a money-maker for them and so their efforts are primarily centered on making it as convenient as possible for the practice -- largely through some inexpensive marketing. Fortunately, some practices think that giving patients the flu shot when they want it not only satisfies patients, but also provides good quality care and gives patients one more reason to seek out their practice first rather than looking elsewhere.

I urge you to look at your practice with the goal of quality care and patient satisfaction. We are all trekking down a slippery slope that can bring patients closer to retail medicine -- and farther away from their medical homes. Do all you can do to preserve the relationship that you have established over the years with your patients.

Nick A. Fabrizio, Ph.D., FACMPE, FACHE is a Senior Consultant with the Medical Group Management Association specializing in operational, organizational, strategic planning, governance, and customer service. Previously, he worked as a practice administrator for over 10 years and worked with a community hospital managing their ambulatory practices. He has worked for clients in primary and specialty care, hospital managed physician practices and integrated delivery systems.

Dr. Fabrizio serves on the faculty at Cornell University in the graduate program in Health Administration. He has presented at several local and national conferences and written articles on the topics of reengineering, customer service, strategic planning, operational improvement efforts, implementing EMRs, and governance. In addition, he has served on several boards including the New York State Medical Group Management Association, where he served as president and was the regent for the American College of Healthcare Executives serving the New York Empire Area. He can be reached at nfabrizio@mgma.com