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How Can We Build Trust in COVID Vaccines and Instill Public Confidence?

Trust in COVID Vaccines

Real-time feedback from patients and quality engagement can help healthcare organizations build trust in COVID vaccines and instill public confidence for a successful rollout.

Outside influences such as politics, the media, or public perception can have an impact and, in some cases, erode the public’s trust in COVID vaccines, which are now being shipped in the U.S. In fact, 46% of adults ages 50 to 80 said they’d rather wait for others to get vaccinated before doing it themselves, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan. That’s a concerning figure, but there is hope to bring that percentage down.

Patients will heed the advice of people they trust. Just over half of the older adults polled said their doctor’s recommendation would be “very important” to their vaccination decision. Over 40% called public health officials’ recommendations “very important,” according to that same poll. That means organizations have the opportunity to build trust and instill public confidence by creating quality engagement through listening and acting on feedback.

We sat down with Medallia’s Kristi Roe, Head of Healthcare Experience, and Lee Becker, Solutions Principal for Public Sector, to provide a perspective on what organizations should consider as they roll out the COVID vaccine.  

What have we already learned about this much talked about vaccine? 

Lee: We have seen tremendous innovation and collaboration across government, industry, and healthcare in coming together to develop not just one, but multiple vaccines in record time. Throughout history, vaccines are generally met without trepidation, but the government’s job is to instill public confidence and ensure everyone is willingly vaccinated. Unfortunately, we are seeing that public trust for the COVID-19 vaccine is lower than for past vaccines. That’s why we need to provide the public with scientifically based information and ensure everyone’s concerns are addressed early and often. A proactive approach to engaging the public can increase comfort levels about getting vaccinated. 

What will make this vaccine rollout a success?  

Kristi: Again, trust will be crucial in making this a success. All of it is dependent on the following: 

  • Confidence in the vaccine’s effectiveness
  • Frequency and accuracy of real-time communication 
  • Answering the public’s questions and concerns quickly

Ultimately, the vaccine’s success will come down to two conditions: does it work, and will people take it? If we do not meet these two conditions, the vaccine rollout will fail. 

Lee: Not only do we need to understand and address the public’s concern, we must leverage multiple communication channels to do so. The only way to effectively scale communication is through technology, and the best way to do that is by engaging the public on their terms and their preferred communication channels. For many, that means through text messaging. A new research study shows 73% of Americans surveyed would communicate with their doctor or healthcare provider via text if they had the option. 

At all times, and even more so during a pandemic, technology can play a crucial role in strengthening relationships through proactive engagement at scale.

Public confidence in the COVID vaccine has fallen. What do we do to restore trust? 

Kristi: For starters, there needs to be a lot more transparency around the vaccine process. 

The government and healthcare systems have a role to play in sharing updates around vaccine coordination and collaboration. Those administering the vaccine locally also can focus on the patient’s experience by proactively communicating information, answering questions, ensuring proper follow-up, and increasing confidence in the process. When something goes wrong, like scheduling issues, or someone shares concerns about side effects for which they don’t receive satisfactory answers, patients will feel they are not heard. That leads to concerns about the overall process and ultimately fosters mistrust.  

If there’s one thing that healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and retailers distributing vaccines should focus on, what would it be? 

Kristi: They should focus on the patient experience, which is the key to establishing trust in the process. We know 32% of customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience, so organizations should not minimize the impact of even one misstep. The experience goes beyond the initial immunization; everyone will be watching and listening for problems, concerns, and ultimately reasons to mistrust the process. That’s why real-time feedback will be a critical piece to proactively addressing issues before they escalate.

Lee: I want to stress the importance of collecting and understanding “real-time feedback” at scale. If organizations cannot capture feedback in real-time from the public they will not be able to impact the experience and improve trust. It is also important for organizations to understand the real-time feedback by age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and location will help to ensure equity in vaccine distribution and management, and any gaps are addressed right away. The ability to quickly pivot based on real-time feedback will not only be important for the vaccine rollout and management but also for positive outcomes.

Who is responsible for getting this right?  

Kristi: Many industries, organizations, and people are responsible for getting this right, but ultimately, the local providers charged with administering the vaccine will make this successful. They will be the ones engaging with patients, educating them, capturing their feedback along the way, and using those insights to ensure a smooth and effective process for everyone.

Getting it right will be even more important in this rollout due to the initial vaccine’s booster shot. Already, many healthcare organizations recognize the difficulty in getting patients to return for follow-up appointments, so organizations need to be thoughtful about the experience they are delivering with the COVID vaccine. 

Lee: From the government perspective, agencies have an opportunity to take a unified leadership role to improve trust around the vaccine. Using data and feedback to understand public sentiment and concerns, agencies can address knowledge gaps within specific population groups by educating and personalizing specific messaging for impact.

We have seen this work. By implementing a voice-of-the-veteran program to listen, capture, and act on real-time feedback, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) increased its trust score to an all-time high of 90% during the pandemic.  

Here is how the VA is approaching human-centered communications around the vaccine

With limited availability early on, how challenging will it be for companies to maintain trust and understanding from the public when different parts of the population may be prioritized over others? What can they do?  

Kristi: Engaging and communicating with the public early and often needs to be prioritized, so patients feel there is transparency around the process. They will want to understand why decisions are made, such as who is in which vaccine wave and why they are in that segment. Imagine being told you are in the second wave, but you believe there is an error and you should be in the first. Who do you contact? What is the appeals process? The greatest challenge will be balancing transparency with the personal needs of the patient.

Lee: While there is a prioritization plan for vaccine distribution, we need to ensure that all populations feel heard. Everyone needs to know how their needs are being met before, during, and after their vaccination. Organizations can use the data they are collecting to guide their decisions, manage expectations, and to help foster public transparency and trust.

Register now! Learn how your organization can build trust in COVID vaccines by joining an upcoming webinar discussion on January 14th.