Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.
Teens want and need physicians to reach out and give them responsibility when it comes to managing vaccination, according to a new report.
Adolescents can be a difficult population to reach, as evidenced by vaccination rates for the age group. A new whitepaper highlights steps physicians can take to promote vaccination compliance and health responsibility among teens.
Judy Klein, president and treasurer for the Unity Consortium, a non-profit organization aimed at increasing awareness and compliance with adolescent vaccinations, said Unity’s whitepaper, “Adolescent Immunization: Understanding Challenges and Framing Solutions for Healthcare Providers,” shows that there is more that healthcare providers can and should do to improve vaccination coverage for teens and young adults.
“The paper summarizes a number of solution-based practices that have proven successful in clinical practice and provides a call to action for healthcare providers to evaluate their immunization practices,” Klein told Medical Economics.
The call to action, dubbed the INSPECT imperative, outlines steps clinicians can take to help increase vaccine compliance and stands for immunization, neighborhood, sharing, platform, education, champions and talk.
Like adults, less than half of adolescents receive the flu vaccine, and only Tdap vaccination meet the goals set forth in the federal HealthyPeople 2020 initiative with 80% compliance-due in part to state mandates for middle school entry.
Experts acknowledge the need to improve adolescent immunization rates and have outlined strategies to achieve this, but research from Unity also shows that 34% of teens still don’t understand the need for vaccination, and 41% of parents believe their adolescents only need to visit the doctor when sick or injured, thus reducing the opportunity healthcare providers have to discuss preventive measures such as vaccination. Adolescents are also a tough audience, with 92% reporting that they trust the recommendations of their doctor, but 47% admitting that they don’t like talking to healthcare providers.
An ideal time for intervention
The paper notes that adolescence is a good time to establish personal health responsibility, with the survey indicating that older teens want healthcare providers to help them stay healthy by sending reminders for vaccinations and appointments.
Despite efforts to educate parents and the public on immunization, there is still a lot of misinformation about vaccines, Klein said, and this problem is exacerbated by social media.
“Our Unity-sponsored survey conducted by Harris Poll found that nearly 6 in 10 parents of teens ages 13 to 18 have some safety concerns about vaccines, and nearly 5 in 10 parents and teens have concerns based on what they’ve read on social media,” Klein said.
It’s up to healthcare providers to correct that misinformation and lead the charge for increased compliance, she said.
“Healthcare providers need to remain vigilant in their efforts to inform, educate and dispel misconceptions, while raising the priority level of immunization,” Klein said. “Unity and several of our member organizations and liaisons including the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the Immunization Action Coalition and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases have user-friendly materials for healthcare providers to share with teens and their parents. Ongoing efforts to customize patient education materials and select the best communication channels to effectively reach adolescents and their parents are also needed.”
According to Unity’s whitepaper, less than half of physicians reported issuing reminders to teens and their parents about vaccinations. Unity suggests that clinicians use technology and information sharing practices to make reminders of this sort a standard practice. Unity has also developed a 3Cs program-a quality improvement initiative to improve healthcare provider delivery of a confident, concise and consistent recommendation for routinely recommended vaccines to adolescents aged 11, 12 and 16. Resources offered through the program include a demonstration video, example recommendation language and frequently asked questions, and motivational interviewing techniques for use with vaccine-hesitant parents, Klein said.
Continuing medical education credits are also available through the Indiana University School of Medicine for watching a video on the 3C program.
The Unity whitepaper suggests that healthcare providers establish routine 16-year-old preventive care visits, and this recommendation is supported by the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine and a whitepaper from the Adolescent Immunization Initiative. This visit would provide an opportunity for healthcare providers to vaccinate and address any misconceptions, as well as to discuss health and other healthcare topics relevant to older teens, she said.
Klein said she hopes the data in the whitepaper and the resources created by Unity will help motivate clinicians to increase efforts to ensure vaccination in the adolescent population.
“Our research shows that approximately 1 in 4 parents and teens don’t understand the benefits of vaccines, or don’t know how being vaccinated helps teens,” Klein said. “Adoption of the INSPECT imperatives by healthcare providers into their clinical practice can help change that.”