COVID-19 vaccines are here, but even if you qualify to get one, getting it is a harried experience. Phone lines for health departments and care providers offering the vaccine are overwhelmed. Signing up for a vaccination online has been no easier. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is also running for mayor, complained that both websites available for booking vaccination appointments were “buggy” and one required too much information. Meanwhile, residents in several counties in Florida have to reserve their COVID-19 vaccinations on event-ticketing site Eventbrite (the same place they can get tickets to see local band Clematis).
The formats for rolling out vaccinations are myriad and as a result the process has been messy. Zocdoc, a healthcare marketplace that helps people find doctors and schedule appointments with them, is hoping to change all that by launching a nationwide vaccination scheduling service. Zocdoc will host it on its own site, where people can see if they are eligible for vaccination, find out where they can get vaccinated, and book an appointment. The company is also making a white-label version of its software available to individual medical practices and health systems for free, so patients can book appointments directly on those websites.
Mount Sinai Health System in New York started using Zocdoc’s vaccination booking program in December and has facilitated over 100,000 appointments for COVID-19 shots. The scheduling form can incorporate a screening questionnaire to determine whether the person booking is eligible for vaccination. It also offers patients the ability to book their second shot at the same time. Zocdoc CEO Oliver Kharraz, says signing up takes 30 seconds.
Messy situation, long lines
Health care systems have struggled so much with distributing vaccines that some cities have avoided scheduling appointments at all and instead offered shots on a first come, first served basis. Seniors and health care workers have dutifully gotten in line. People are lining up in cars and on sidewalks. They’re doing it in Los Angeles and Glendale, Arizona. And across Washington D.C., Florida, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico. And the lines are long.
“There’s no reason why elderly patients should be waiting online outside,” says Kharraz. He’s hoping that health systems and public health authorities will adopt software schedulers such as his to help alleviate the confusion around booking a COVID vaccine.
Zocdoc’s medical appointment scheduling software has been around since 2007. Late last year, the company launched an alert service that will notify a person when their demographic is eligible to receive the vaccine. It also expanded into telehealth, so that doctors on its platform can connect with patients over video.
Coordinating vaccinations has proven to be extremely complex. It requires managing a shifting supply of vaccines as well as an evolving criteria for who can be vaccinated. Mount Sinai, for example, has had to pause COVID-19 vaccinations for the public and is only vaccinating its own employees at this time. That has nothing to do with Zocdoc’s software; it’s a product of ever changing resources and rules. Which is to say, that even a good vaccination scheduling program may not fix all of the hiccups in vaccinating an unprecedented number of people at once. But it does stand to help.
“Vaccines have been off to a rocky start,” says Kharraz, “And it’s just not the time for trial and error.”