Fostering Technical Efficiency to Expedite COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Several departments came together to devise an equitable roadmap for how to best support and protect our communities

COVID-19 vaccine preparation

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused confusion and uncertainty across the world. Vaccine development and approval gave the world hope and excitement, but Eric Boose, MD anticipated logistical challenges to expedite vaccine distribution.

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“The early days of escalating COVID-19 cases and deaths was concerning. It was something at the beginning before vaccine development,” says Dr. Boose. “But just as quickly, the tone shifted with vaccine availability. While that news was a major relief, we also knew that there were limited supplies to help so many people.”

Cleveland Clinic was designated as a vaccine storage and administration site, and Dr. Boose was part of several Cleveland Clinic teams overseeing the enormous lift to develop an efficient, effective vaccination process swiftly.

As Associate Chief Medical Information Officer, Dr. Boose led the Technology team that worked in tangent with the Steering and Operations teams to create a fair vaccination process that aligned with local health department requirements and CDC guidelines.

“The systematic deployment of vaccines was dependent on allocation processes. The better the process, the more likely we were to receive additional vaccines,” explains Dr. Boose. “Any delay or waste would jeopardize our ability to secure more supplies.”

Creating a fair distribution process was equally important. Getting the right people vaccinated based on a phased, tiered approach was paramount.

Dr. Boose explains, “With limited supplies, we knew it was imperative to expedite our process and to do it right. That meant starting with our caregivers who had the most frequent interactions with our COVID-19 patients — our emergency departments, intensive care units and COVID-19 units. Then, we expanded to the inpatient unit, outpatient areas and our remaining caregivers.”

He continues, “Next, distribution moved on to the phased age groups among the community. It was quite exciting to know that we were helping treat so many people, but also being so laser-focused on the specific goal of vaccinating the right people in such a timely, efficient fashion.”

An evolving technical workflow

Using information technology to drive a structured, equitable allocation system was an intricate balance between supply availability and patient access. To build these efficient technical workflows, the IT team participated in daily meetings to stay aligned with any vaccine administration or scheduling changes.

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“There were several technical iterations. Our initial pathway was to use our Occupational Health portal, ReadySet, but then we ended up switching to self-scheduling in our electronic health record system.” He adds, “This shift gave caregivers access to their vaccine records, which they indicated was important.” 

Once the process switched to self-scheduling, targeted groups were able to find open appointment slots thanks to ticket-scheduling functionality. Pharmacy closely monitored supplies to minimize waste.                                                                          

Dr. Boose continues, “In the beginning, caregivers were waiting for their notification and were immediately ready to get their vaccine. In those early days, getting your notification was like winning the lottery. Fortunately, our efficiency allowed us to rapidly expand coverage.”

Closing the care gap

Technology benefits can often overshadow the sharp divide among disparate communities. This brings a mindfulness to seek solutions that foster equitable healthcare for everyone.

“The digital divide is real,” notes Dr. Boose. “Older adults and those without internet access or smartphones are especially at risk for missing vital care. Connecting with these individuals was a high priority.”

The team turned to Cleveland Clinic’s Community Relations department to expand outreach efforts. They provided vaccination stations at local community centers, staffed call centers, offered guidance and strengthened neighborhood relationships.

Dr. Boose remains grateful:  “These exceptional caregivers were determined to close the gap that wouldn’t happen with emails and text messages. Their support translated into healthier communities.”

Always a place for Ethics

Pooling talent within an organization blends expertise and experiences to reach a common goal.

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For Dr. Boose, this intersection of collective perspectives is where the magic happens. Among these talented caregivers, he found the contributions from the Ethics Department intriguing.

“Ethics’ input was fascinating to me.” Dr. Boose describes, “Our guiding principle was to maintain a fair vaccination administration process. Ethics’ valuable input shaped our medical decisions while boosting our confidence that we were making the right choices.”

Record your roadmap for future direction

Capturing institutional knowledge is a valuable asset toward future challenges. Documenting the COVID-19 efforts leads to a reliable and sustainable framework when crises arise.

“There were so many moving parts that a manual process simply couldn’t support.” Dr. Boose shares, “Hundreds of online appointments were scheduled every hour. Technology gave us the speed and efficiency to meet this ongoing demand.”

Dr. Boose recalls his own experience. “I was so impressed by the seamless efficiency when I got my vaccine — all the systems and people worked together to deliver a fast, pleasant experience!”

Making success a reality happened with support from the Information Technology Division, Business Intelligence / Analytics, Ethics, Community Relations Human Resources, Marketing / Communications, Medical Operations, Nursing, Occupational Health and Pharmacy.