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National Attention for Taking on the Flu

77% of University Health System staff took a flu shot this year – way above the national average

When it comes to protecting themselves and their patients from getting the flu, very few healthcare workers care as much as those working at University Health System. That’s because more than three-quarters of the 5,000 people employed at University Health System received flu shots during the 2010 flu season. At most hospitals, that number is less than 50 percent, and fueling the debate on whether or not flu shots should be required for all healthcare workers.

It’s an important issue, since healthcare workers can pass the flu on to very sick or elderly patients, for whom the infection could be fatal. That’s why University Health System decided to tackle the problem. It’s also why the team responsible for achieving an outstanding 77 percent flu vaccination rate is sharing its strategy with hospitals across the country in the June issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

In 2009, University Health System’s rate was 59 percent. It was above the national average, but not good enough. The team of doctors, infection control practitioners, administrators and communicators developed a list of every reason they had ever heard on why people refuse the vaccine. Then they created an intervention for each item to encourage people to change their minds. “Our methodology allowed us to adapt and modify interventions over time, adjusting to challenges and opportunities for improvement that emerged,” says Dr. Jose Cadena, a member of the team and an author of the journal report.

Interventions included: a vaccination kit so staff could take it without leaving their work area, educational conferences, a flu information website and blog, hospital newsletter articles including photographs of hospital leaders being vaccinated, on-hold messages and computer screensavers. To monitor progress, vaccination rates by unit were sent weekly and available to all employees on the website.

“Mathematical models have shown that [healthcare worker] influenza vaccination could lead to a 40 percent decreased risk of patients acquiring influenza in the healthcare setting,” Dr. Cadena and his colleagues concluded, adding that making vaccination a condition of employment, as recommended recently by several professional societies including the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, may be required to achieve higher rates of vaccination.

Jose Cadena, Teresa Prigmore, Jason Bowling, Beth Ann Ayala, Leni Kirkman, Amruta Parekh, Theresa Scepanski, and Jan E. Patterson, “Improving Healthcare Workers’ Influenza Vaccination Using Quality Improvement Tools.” Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 32:6 (June 2011).

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