COMMENTARY

Why Not Give Physician Practices the Vaccine to Distribute?

Halee Fischer-Wright, MD

Disclosures

March 08, 2021

Halee Fischer-Wright, MD

The one question my mom asks me almost daily is, "Why can't we get vaccinated at our doctor's office?"

For her, and for most of us, the biggest issue in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is not just supply but also the challenge of where and how. We all want to get our shots where we have easy access, feel safe, and trust the caregiver. There's an obvious solution, but we seem to be ignoring it.

Despite the fact that the majority of states have administered less than 60% of the vaccine they've received, a recent MGMA survey found that 85% of independent physician practices have not been given any vaccine for their patients. Americans are left with no option but to hunt the vaccine across a patchwork of clunky websites and first-come, first-served mass vaccination centers that feel less than safe.

If we want to prevent more cases, more hospitalizations, and more unnecessary deaths, federal and state officials have to immediately prioritize physician practices in their vaccine distribution strategy.

They are our most reliable resource for dramatically improving the pace, efficiency, and safety of vaccination, and protecting more people across the country. Millions of Americans are successfully vaccinated every year in physicians' offices. Pragmatically, they have the training, staff, and systems to increase shots given the very hour they receive supply.

Imagine what we could achieve with the strength of physician practices behind this effort.

Physician offices can meet patients where they are, rather than asking the most vulnerable patients to line up in the cold or travel 100 miles to be vaccinated. They are embedded in communities, centrally located, easily accessible, and can shift us away from gatherings of large groups of potentially sick people.

With physician practices, we can stop wasting time and resources reinventing a way to get shots in the arms of Americans, because it already exists. Physician practices have the bandwidth and outreach capabilities to support this critical last mile of the vaccine rollout.

Many practices have already been approved to administer the vaccine, have trained staff, and have proper storage. But for some reason, we're distributing vaccine to hospitals that are already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

With a few clicks of a mouse, practices can identify the most vulnerable patients and then easily make contact to get them vaccinated first. I'm hearing from practice leaders every day that they've already grouped their patient population into tiers or risk levels. Their knowledge of their patients is current and deep, while pharmacies and hospital systems know comparatively little about people's chronic conditions, recent health problems, lifestyles, and other risk factors. With our still-limited supply, they are our best option to get it to the people who need it most first.

Physician practices can battle myths and misconceptions that are hobbling the vaccination effort and address patients' concerns about a new vaccine. In my experience, one of the most important roles physicians play is to have sensitive, reassuring conversations about risks and benefits.

Practices can also rely on their existing education and communication systems, essentials we're desperately lacking right now. They're already doing this, fielding calls from thousands of confused or worried patients and doing their best to share clear, balanced information.

President Biden and federal health policy leaders need to make physician practices a vital component of their vaccine strategy. State and county departments of health must immediately re-evaluate their distribution approach to leverage the existing systems and patient relationships that physician practices offer at the local level. And hospitals with supplies of vaccine should consider partnering with local medical groups to fully utilize their supply and protect as many people as fast as possible.

We can reach our ambitious vaccination goals. We can push forward through this pandemic. But we must stop overlooking our most vital healthcare resource and let them turn the tide now.

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