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The 2014 flu season has been a busy one, and it is not close to being over. Triage nurses in our nurse triage center used the flu or cold protocols in over 26% of the cases in the first 5 weeks of 2014.
The CDC reports that this year more people between the ages of 18 and 64 have been hospitalized for flulike symptoms than in previous years, and considering the statistics from last year – that’s a lot!
Last year’s flu season left behind some interesting numbers:
- Approximately 100 million doctor visits occurred
- American’s spent $7.7 billion on additional medicine and treatments
- Cold and flu absences from work and school costs the economy more than $30 billion annually
- Walgreens administered 5.5 million flu shots, and made millions more selling other cold and flu treatments
With these facts in mind, it is important that healthcare providers take additional steps to provide their patients with flu-related information and care, so patients don’t turn to retail or urgent care clinics for vaccinations.
“A low level appointment might be $60. Missing 10 of those a day over two and a half months is a lot of money,” says Gray Tuttle, principal in healthcare management for Rehmann in Lansing, Michigan.
Taking Care of Your Patients
According to the CDC, overall, flu activity remains high, and “is likely to continue for some time.” With that in mind, healthcare practices still have time to adjust their flu services to better serve their patients.
Suggestions for providing quality care include:
- Find out what payers fully cover flu shots and which do not. Provide this information to your patient so they know what to expect.
- Educate your patients about their need for the flu shot. Don’t just ask if they received one, inform them of their risk and let them know you can provide the shot.
- Set up special hours specifically for flu vaccinations, and allow for walk-ins so that patients can get their shot through you without making an appointment.
- Offer same-day appointments by leaving time in the schedule for morning and afternoon patients with flu symptoms. Monday mornings are often busy with patients who were sick over the weekend, so light scheduling is very beneficial at that time.
- The CDC recommends sectioning off a part your waiting area specifically for patients with respiratory infections. If that’s not possible, having a station specifically for cold and flu patients will allow them to move through the waiting room quickly, reducing exposure to other patients.
Taking Care of You and Your Staff
Healthcare employees are at a higher risk of exposure to the flu and therefore need to take additional precautions to protect themselves from infection, while also reducing the transmission of it to other patients, staff, and family members.
- Have protocols in place to get employees and their families vaccinated.
- Review infection-control standard precautions with all staff, even those who do not have direct patient contact. Promote hand hygiene and cough etiquette
- Encourage sick employees to stay at home. Have a plan in place to cover their absence, possibly through a temp service, or utilizing a telephone triage service to help direct patients to appropriate care.
- Ensure you have proper personal protective equipment available to healthcare staff, and make sure it is used and discarded properly.
- Be extra diligent with office cleaning procedures, especially between patients.
- The immune system functions best when a person eats healthy, exercises, and gets plenty of rest. Make sure you and your staff take good care of your health so that you can be there to take care of your patients.
The Bottom Line
The flu season can be a very busy time for many practices, but with proper procedures in place, providers can effectively help their patients. A nurse triage line can help educate patients and your office staff can help patients by making adjustments to flu services. In addition, while you and members of your staff may not want the vaccine, it’s important that you get it to protect your health and the health of those around you.
Influenca Implementation Guide – American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www2.aap.org/immunization/illnesses/flu/implementationguidance_flu.pdf