- Allowing pharmacists to give immunizations in the retail clinic offers a more convenient option for healthcare consumers, helping to increase the rate of patients receiving flu shots, according to research from the National Association of Drug Chain Stores (NACDS).
“Immunization is essential in the prevention of infectious diseases,” wrote the NACDS researchers, who worked in conjunction with Avalere. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified immunizations as a public health achievement that has contributed to the 30-year increase in life expectancy in the United States since 1900.”
Despite the importance of immunizations, not enough patients have been accessing this form of preventive care. During the 2015 to 2016 flu season, only 38 percent of patients ages 18 to 64, and about 67 percent of senior patients received an immunization, the researchers reported.
Those numbers are a far cry from the goal vaccination rates for either age group, which are 80 percent and 90 percent respectively.
Although there are several barriers keeping patients from accessing certain types of care, the researchers identified convenient access to flu shots to be the largest in this specific instance. Additionally, research has suggested that lack of a regular and reliable provider and insurance have kept patients from receiving flu vaccines.
Offering flu shots in alternative care sites may be one strategy for overcoming patient access barriers. In recent years, many states have been changing their flu vaccination policies to allow pharmacists to deliver the vaccine to patients in retail pharmacy spaces.
In a retrospective survey analysis, the NACDS researchers found that these actions and the expanded, convenient access to flu shots increased the number of patients accessing preventive care.
The team compared data from different states that have authorized pharmacists to administer flu shots in the retail clinic. Data represented flu shot rates before and after states granted that authorization and spanned the flu seasons between 2003 and 2013. The analysis also looked at patient access to vaccines, patient health, and demographics.
In all, rates at which patients received flu shots rose from 32.2 percent in 2003 to 40.3 percent in 2013. The number of patients receiving vaccinations rose exponentially, from 2.2 percent to 7.6 percent year over year.
Flu shot rates increased primarily for patients aged 25 to 59 years old. However, younger patients tend to be healthier and utilize healthcare less often than patients over the age of 59, the researchers pointed out. If these patients visit their physician fewer times per year than older patients, they will be more likely to need a convenient alternative vaccine option.
Comparatively, older adults are usually high healthcare utilizers. If senior patients visit the doctor multiple times annually, it is more likely that they will receive their flu shot from a physician.
Healthcare policymakers should continue to empower pharmacists and retail clinics to administer flu shots, the researchers asserted. These care sites serve as a convenient and feasible solution for lagging flu vaccination numbers.
Expanding patient access to preventive care and immunizations can help drive patient wellness and reduce healthcare costs, the research team explained.
“Policies to promote immunizations in nontraditional settings (in which administrations have been shown to be cost-effective as a result of lower costs of immunization delivery) may improve access to this preventive care; this improved access can increase immunization rates and ultimately reduce the burden of influenza on the health care system,” the team noted.
Expanding access to vaccinations in retail clinics specifically will help increase the number of patients receiving their flu shot, the team continued.
“Furthermore, retail pharmacies in particular are widely available and can offer seasonal influenza immunizations during their business hours over the course of the seasonal influenza season; they may lower people’s opportunity costs of receiving such a vaccination relative to traditional providers and also employer-provided clinics,” the researchers said.
Retail clinics are known for being convenient care sites, responsible for helping patients receive quality healthcare in the most appropriate, cost-effective, and convenient space.
These results also suggested further improvements for patients receiving immunizations and other types of preventive care, the investigators asserted.
“The results point toward considering expansion of scope of practice in areas that leverage pharmacist-delivered patient care services and accessibility for patients, particularly where there is a well-established protocol in place, with the goal of increasing the provision of health services and potentially improving public health,” the team concluded.