Flu Season is Far From Over—and it’s Time to Start Planning for the Next One
by Gillian Marshall
Every year around the month of September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launches a new flu vaccination campaign to disperse the latest recommendations, research and data throughout various channels across the country. Shortly after launching, the multi-channel initiative has trickled down to national pharmacy chains, state health departments and local clinics. By October, the flu shot is a trending topic with a tremendous amount of buzz. However, despite the heightened visibility and broad accessibility of the vaccination, the resounding call to action is not effective for everyone. This flu season, only 2 out of 5 individuals in the United States had received a flu shot as of November 2016¹. With less than half of the population getting vaccinated at the start of the season, we must consider new strategic interventions that can translate the seasonal buzz into widespread action.
For some, an annual flu shot is a standing fall ritual. For many others, a flu shot is something they might do—if they have the motivation. For those in the latter group, the flu doesn’t seem like much of a risk when the weather is still warm and the illness seems nonexistent; there is simply no sense of urgency to get vaccinated. As the season progresses and the clamoring flu shot buzz gradually slows, the reminders become less frequent and the intent to get a flu shot declines. People aren’t talking about the flu shot as much, so it must no longer be important. However, as this flu season has taught us, this false sense of security is completely unjustified. Although flu season may start to pick up around September and October, outbreaks generally peak between December and March—and the virus can continue circulating as late as May².
As we have recently witnessed with the current influenza strain that reached epidemic levels in late January³, reports of escalating mortality and hospitalization rates are what motivate many people to get vaccinated. Unlike the start of flu season when there is minimal perceived risk, the mid-season outbreaks present the flu as a very real, immediate issue. In terms of the Stages of Change (Transtheoretical) Model⁴ depicted blow, these outbreaks are what trigger many individuals to take action by rushing to their pharmacy or doctor to get a shot. Although they are finally performing the desired action, it can be too late at this point. When the illness becomes widespread and the immunization takes two weeks to take effect, the risk for infection is significantly increased. How do we drive action in the early months of flu season before these outbreaks put individuals at a higher risk?
The key is motivating more individuals to be proactive—not reactive—by getting vaccinated before the flu reaches epidemic levels.
As with most things in healthcare, this is easier said than done. However, a recent survey conducted on Pursuant Health’s national kiosk network indicated that offering a reward may be the key to driving flu shot action. In this survey, 62% of respondents did not get vaccinated this flu season. Of this group (n=9218), 57% of said they would get a flu shot for an incentive (gift card), and 45% claimed they would do it for under $20. Based on this survey data, there is an opportunity to drive effective behavior change and increase flu shot coverage by leveraging incentives.
Pursuant Health’s population health platform addresses this need by combining multi-channel engagement, targeted communication and immediate rewards to educate, motivate and incentivize individuals. In addition to fostering awareness so that individuals are willing to get a flu shot, Pursuant Health’s real-time incentive model triggers individuals to follow through and get vaccinated in a more time-effective manner. The program aims to not only increase vaccination rates, but also to decrease influenza cases by motivating more individuals to get flu shots before they are at higher risk.
Although this flu season is far from over, there is a critical need to start thinking ahead so we can effectively plan for the next one. At Pursuant Health, we are doing this by closely monitoring our current flu shot program and surveying our existing user base to gather key insights that will shape our next offering. While our immediate incentive model is effective in increasing vaccination rates, we have learned that strategically-timed health incentives programs are equally important. To achieve maximum impact, a flu shot program should launch at the start of the season so that it is bolstered by the resounding seasonal buzz. Additionally, it must maintain traction during the lulls by actively engaging individuals after the initial noise dies down. Like the individuals we aim to protect, we as organizations must be proactive about flu prevention. Fall— and the next flu season—will be here before we know it. Will you be ready?
4. Prochaska, J. O., Velicer, W. F., Rossi, J. S., Goldstein, M. G., Marcus, B. H., Rakowski, W., … & Rossi, S. R. (1994). Stages of change and decisional balance for 12 problem behaviors. Health psychology, 13(1), 39.
Gillian Marshall is a Product Manager at Pursuant Health with a background in social marketing and health communication. Gillian earned a Master of Public Health in Health Promotion and Behavior with a Certificate in Disaster Management from the University of Georgia.
Pursuant Health values its role in helping health plans achieve meaningful quality intervention and member engagement. For more information on Pursuant Health and how we can assist your health plan, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.