Health care providers are consistently ranked as the most trusted source of vaccination information by patients. And with decreasing rates across several types of vaccinations, including the flu and COVID-19 boosters, it’s more important than ever to remain prepared to talk with our patients about the importance of vaccinations.
With the help of UI Health Care vaccine hesitancy expert Aaron Scherer, PhD, we’ve provided five techniques to help.
1. Provide a strong recommendation for vaccinations
Studies have found that when a health care provider tells their patient to choose to receive a vaccine, vaccination rates can be as much as 20%-40% higher than when a recommendation isn’t made, or the vaccine isn’t offered. It’s important you recommend vaccinations to your patients and offer them the opportunity to get vaccinated at an upcoming clinic appointment.
2. Use the ‘what else?’ tactic
When a patient seems hesitant about getting a vaccine, ask them what they are most concerned about. Then, instead of immediately trying to address their concern, try asking, “What else are you concerned about?” Keep asking until the patient runs out of concerns. When they are done, be sure to thank them for sharing their concerns.
Not only will this help the patient feel like you care and are listening to them, but it will also give you a sense about whether the patient’s concerns are primarily a lack of knowledge (i.e., they simply need additional information) or if there’s something else underlying their hesitation (e.g., feeling a loss of control; wanting to reduce uncertainty; political or religious ideology). We also know that hearing all the patient’s concerns upfront will help the provider efficiently address them.
3. Ask the patient’s permission to provide information
Ask the patient if you may speak with them about your perspective on vaccinations. This can increase a patient’s sense of personal control and make them less likely to respond defensively to what you might have to say.
It could be something as simple as, “I understand that getting a new vaccine can be scary and lead to many questions. Can we take a minute to discuss?”
If you yourself have been vaccinated, share your vaccination experience with them to signal to your patient that you believe it is safe.
4. Direct patients to credible resources
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization remain reliable resources for COVID-19 vaccine information, as well as information on the flu, RSV, and other respiratory illness.
5. Building and maintaining trust is everything
The level of trust between you and your patient is likely going to be more persuasive than any specific information you might provide them.
Avoid doing things that might undermine that trust, such as talking down to them or getting upset if they choose to decline getting vaccinated. Always recognize that health care decisions are the patient’s to make and we are here to help them have all the data they need to make the best decision for them and their family.
You also need to trust your patients; don’t assume that you’ve failed to persuade them if they decline a vaccine during the visit. Some patients simply need time to process what you’ve talked about. In fact, research suggests that patients will often get vaccinated at a future office visit or at another site after having a discussion with their health care provider.