Chicago thinks Zocdoc can help solve vaccine chaos

In the first week of February, a winter storm blew over Chicago, leaving piles of snow before sub-zero temperatures set in. Eve Bloomgarden, endocrinologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, received a call from a worried patient who was due to receive a covid-19 vaccine this week. She was preparing to brave the inclement weather – and drive for the first time since the start of the pandemic – because she feared this might be her only chance to get the vaccine.

“I see immense frustration and fear that they will be left behind,” Bloomgarden says.

Chicago, like many parts of the United States, has found that the distribution of covid-19 vaccines is slower than anyone expected. Only 6% of the city’s 2.7 million people have been vaccinated so far, and people said the process was “like the Hunger GamesCausing them to get up late to refresh multiple websites in the hope that an open location will appear. To make matters worse, the official listing sites are clunky and difficult to navigate.

In early February, the Department of Public Health announced a plan to help alleviate some of these technical issues: partnership with Zocdoc, the popular online healthcare planning company. Zocdoc acts as a unified portal for multiple vendors, so people can register with a single, more user-friendly tool rather than battling with several different systems at once. While Chicago is the first city to enter into this specific agreement with Zocdoc, other health agencies launch similar partnerships with private startups.

Before the pandemic, Zocdoc acted as a one-stop-shop where patients could see different doctors, compare medical providers, and make appointments. Company CEO Oliver Kharraz says years of connecting a fragmented health care system unknowingly have prepared him for making appointments for the covid-19 vaccination. After the idea was tested with the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, Zocdoc says, Chicago entered into a partnership – and the system was up and running within weeks. Zocdoc connects to 1,400 different planning systems – physician workflows remain the same, but patients all see the same simple interface regardless of which provider they use.

“If you are not logged into the right system, how are you going to access it?”

“You don’t have to register 10 times and you know when the next available move is for you,” Kharraz says.

Bloomgarden, the Northwestern Memorial doctor, says the new Zocdoc tool will be a “great addition” to Chicago’s vaccination campaign, but that it only fixes one of the deployment issues. After all, it’s still a version of the same first-come, first-served approach, which means it doesn’t solve the most critical problem: Vaccines don’t reach the people who have them. Not needed anymore.

Christina Anderson, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health and COO for Covid-19 Response, says that while Zocdoc may not be the solution needed to reach and vaccinate elderly Chicagoans, it has the potential to help others who have difficulty getting vaccinated, such as those who do not have a primary care provider.

But Bloomgarden says really making vaccines accessible will require targeted outreach – much of it offline.

Who you know matters

Local and federal officials in the United States seem to come to the same conclusion. On February 9, President Joe Biden announced a new program that will deliver vaccines directly to community health centers serving 30 million people across the United States, two-thirds of whom are at or below the poverty line. federal. Federally qualified community health centers receive federal funding to provide care to underserved populations.

Keon L. Gilbert, associate professor of behavioral sciences and health education at Saint Louis University, says approaches to serving particularly vulnerable populations vary widely from state to state. Some states have puts adults over 65 up the priority list regardless of their other risk factors. Other strategies ran into hurdles: When Dallas tried to prioritize vaccinations for eligible people living in hard-hit zip codes – who tend to be people of color – the state threatened to reduce county dose distribution.

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