INTRO COMMENTS: Hello and welcome to Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, the podcast for emerging healthcare leaders. My name is Kadesha Smith, I'm your host. I’m also the CEO of CareContent, a digital strategy agency for healthcare organizations.
Today, we are talking about the COVID-19 vaccination and how healthcare organizations can educate their patients about it.
For over a year now, coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the nation and the world. But on December 14, 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccination was given to a nurse in Long Island. This, however, does not mean the pandemic is over. Scientists estimate that a vaccination rate of 70% is needed for herd immunity from COVID-19.
Many remain reluctant and uncertain about the vaccine. Some are concerned about long-term data on the effects of the vaccine. There are concerns coming from social media and anti-vaccination groups because it’s so new. Other hesitancies stem from religious objections, or a long, documented history of racist experimentation in medical care and research. This has made groups like Black and Hispanic Americans wary of the vaccine.
I have personally had conversations with friends and family members about whether they’d get the vaccine, and there’s a clear split — a few are like, “Yes, we’ll do it,” and most of them actually refuse.
Regardless of where people stand on getting the vaccine, the most important factor is that accurate information is available. Healthcare organizations and our nation’s public health entities will play a key role in this.
In this episode, we are talking to Dr. Joseph Cacchione, Executive Vice President of Clinical & Network Services for Ascension. He’s also a distinguished cardiologist and has a national reputation for physician alignment, innovative strategy, and improving patient care and engagement. Before Ascension, Dr. Cacchione served at the Cleveland Clinic, where he was the Executive Vice President of St. Vincent Health System.
Now, let’s dive into our conversation with Dr. Joseph Cacchione. Again, he’s sharing his insight on how healthcare organizations can educate their patients on the COVID-19 vaccine.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Hello Dr. Joseph Cacchione, how are you?
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: I’m fine, how are you today?
MODERN HEALTHCARE: I'm good, I'm good. So, I just want to share a couple of key data points about the COVID-19 vaccination and just communication efforts before we get started with our discussion. First thing is, as of January 29, over 26 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States. Since 2019, anti-vaccination accounts on social media have gained more than 10 million new followers. And in December 2020, nearly 60% of white Americans said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to around 53% of Hispanic Americans and 37% of Black Americans.
So, today we’re talking about educating patients about the vaccine, and we know that that requires a team effort. What are your thoughts? Should healthcare organizations be leading that effort to educate patients? And then, who else should be involved? What other partners should be brought into these efforts?
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: Well, thank you for the question, it’s really important. You know, we at Ascension — we’ve delivered about — over 300,000 vaccines to date, and we’re learning more and more as we go. And what we’ve learned mostly is it takes a village. It takes a village to communicate, educate, and deliver vaccines. And it starts with our marketing/communications team, which has done a wonderful job at getting the word out — not only to our associates but also to the public. Community awareness campaigns are extremely important right now.
We, as a health system — Ascension, as a health system — is a trusted source in many ways. We know that there’s information out there that the physician is a trusted source for patients, oftentimes, when it comes to vaccinations. So, it’s a true collaboration between our clinical services — our doctors — and our marketing communications to help get the word out and tell them their doctor thinks this is the right thing to do. We’ve got to also work through the communities, work through churches and community centers. Our schools. We’ve got to educate. It’s got to be a full-court press and it’s got to be multi-channel.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: With all of these different people that have to be involved in sharing the information, making sure it’s accurate — messaging is really, really important. Can you walk us through the process of developing key messages around the vaccine’s efficacy, around its distribution — how do you land on something coherent that all these various groups can then communicate?
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: I think we have to take a systematic approach to educating about what the science is, and it has to be done in a very artful way. And that’s where we blend the art of medicine, the science of medicine, with the art of communication. It’s been a true partnership with our colleagues in marketing/communications to make sure that we take that science and turn it into the lay public language, so that they understand — they understand the implications of it.
The other piece of that I’ll come back to again is about trust. It’s establishing that trusted source of information. It doesn’t occur today when we want to talk to them just about a vaccine. This trust is established over a long period of time, together with our physicians who see these folks in the office, and the fact that we can continually communicate with our patients and our associates about being the trusted source of information about healthcare. So, this is a journey. This happens to be a very important part of the journey. And we have to take advantage of all of the things that we’ve done in the past to build a foundation of trust with the communities, with the people that we serve.
And we have to not only passively ask them to get the vaccine — we have to reach out and tell them it’s time to get the vaccine. And so it’s much more active, and I think that’s the advantage that health systems have in terms of delivering the vaccine, is to be more active and reach out to those more vulnerable — and those that often times get left behind because they’re not willing to go to a vaccination site that says, “Hey, just come in and get your vaccination.” They oftentimes need coaxing from their healthcare provider to do that.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: And kind of just that extra layer of credibility.
Let’s talk about education and awareness, and then, like you said, promoting that trust. It does take time, but people do start to get weary of all the messaging and just kind of tune out. I even know people who will hear this stat about 26 million COVID cases, and they just kind of like, glaze over, just kind of tired of hearing it.
How do healthcare organizations send that message and keep it urgent about the vaccine? Especially with all the skepticism and with people kind of having fatigue of hearing this messaging.
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: I think it starts with leading by example. Making people aware that their healthcare provider has gotten the vaccine. And, you know, we continue to lead by example. So, many of us got out vaccines and publicly did it. Rolled up our sleeves in front of the camera so our marketing/communications people could actually show our populations, our workforce getting the vaccination.
Our healthcare workers, for the, by and large, we’ve vaccinated now — we think — over 70% of our workforce. So, we’re encouraged by that, and I think our healthcare workers that live this every day — many of them see the times when, you know, a COVID case came in that they didn’t understand why they were so sick with it. That’s the unpredictability of this.
Many people say, “Well, I’m young. I’m going to roll the dice and think I’m not going to have a serious case.” It is a roll of the dice. And now that we have a way to prevent this illness, we need to make that case that this is about prevention.
I always think about three reasons why somebody should be vaccinated. It should be, for number one, for your own personal health. If you don’t care about that, you should care about your family’s health. You may have a loved one, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling that has chronic illness that you could expose them to the virus, and actually end up causing their demise. And then there’s a public health commitment that we all have and a responsibility.
And I think those three things — personal health, family health, and public health — I think we have a responsibility to our communities to also get the vaccine to help stop the spread of this illness, and to get life back to some semblance of normal.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Let’s talk about equity, ensuring that everyone at least gets equal access, at least gets an equal shot at having the vaccination.
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: For us, it’s been very purposefully achieving health equity. Going the extra mile to find those vulnerable populations that may not understand why the vaccine is so important. And to account for not only race, but ethnicity and other social determinant factors that may impact their decision to get a vaccine.
First of all, it’s understanding the issues that confront Hispanics of Black, African American population on why they’re not willing to get the vaccine. Is it a trust issue? Are we a reflection of the communities that we treat? So, we’re very purposeful now on making sure that the communities we work in — we have people that look like the people that we’re treating in those communities. And oftentimes, that establishes a level of trust that others couldn’t do if they didn’t look or have the same ethnic background. So, Hispanic physicians treating Hispanic populations. Those are very important pieces of the puzzle.
Now, we can’t solve those overnight, so we have to have directed messages and we have to lead by example. So, if we have our Black, African American leaders in our organization reaching out to communities, working through churches, to talk about the need for the vaccine and why are Blacks more vulnerable to this in some situations than their white counterparts.
So, I think it’s about a purposeful messaging to those communities. It’s about using our ability — our best ability to establish trust, even beyond what we’ve had in the past. And then understanding what are the reasons that they are afraid of the vaccine or have vaccine hesitancy? And then trying to address those, and purposeful education.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Absolutely, thank you so much for that insight. What has been your role in educating patients about the vaccine and making sure that they know it’s available?
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: So, my role is I’m the Chief Physician for Ascension. My responsibility is coordinating our effort — not only on the education side, but also on the delivery side. So, connecting those dots and coordinating very, very talented teams of people in all of our ministries across Ascension to deliver vaccines and educate the public. And educate our patients and our associates who have done a wonderful job — to educate them about the importance and safety of this vaccine.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Alright, Dr. Joseph Cacchione. Thank you so much for making time for this discussion. I get the feeling that this is far from over, so we’re going to need to keep hearing this insight about how to help patients understand what the vaccine’s about and how they can get access to it.
DR. JOSEPH CACCHIONE: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. And get your shot, if you’re listening.
OUTRO COMMENTS: Thank you, Dr. Joseph Cacchione, for that insight on educating patients on the COVID-19 vaccination. Again, I’m your host, Kadesha Smith, CEO of CareContent. We help health systems reach their growth goals through digital strategy and content.
Look for more episodes of Next Up at modernhealthcare.com/podcasts or subscribe at Apple podcasts or your preferred podcatcher. Thank you again for listening.