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August 24, 2021

What to say to your vaccine-hesitant patients: A doctor's 5 tips

Daily Briefing

    Amid research showing the overwhelming majority of Americans trust their personal doctors more than other health information sources, one physician, Chau Che, is advocating for a grassroots effort among doctors to convince patients to get vaccinated against Covid-19—and she offers her five-step, two-minute approach to do so.

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    Patient trust

    According to an NPR-Ipsos poll from last year, 85% of adults said they trust their personal doctor, including 84% of Republicans, 86% of Independents, and 89% of Democrats. When asked "How much do you trust each of the following people?" trust in personal doctors surpassed every other potential response, including faith and spiritual leaders (61%); Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House's chief medical advisor (59%); President Joe Biden (53%); and others.

    More recently, a study from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that at least 70% Americans trust doctors to do what's right for them and their families either most or all of the time, and 79% trust nurses in the same capacity. The poll shows high levels of trust among both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and white, Black, and Hispanic Americans.

    Even more specifically, the Associated Press reports that June polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that people said they trusted doctors for information about the vaccine more than other sources, including CDC and Fauci.

    Michelle Strollo, an SVP in NORC's Health Research Group, said, "Public health officials should really look to doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to be the megaphone to deliver the message of the importance of getting vaccinated."

    One physician's 5-step strategy

    Chau Che, a gastroenterologist at Temple Physicians, in an opinion piece for MedPage Today, calls on physicians who have direct patient contact to leverage that trust to "seize … time with [vaccine-hesitant patients] to make a difference and empower them to get the vaccine."

    While Che writes that she never expected to offer patients vaccine advice as a gastroenterologist, she notes that, "at this point, the government messaging, incentives, and outreach programs are unlikely to change the minds of most vaccine-hesitant people." As a result, she writes, there's a need for providers who are seeing patients—either virtually or in-person—to convince them to get vaccinated.

    Che shares the approach she uses to convince her patients to get vaccinated against Covid-19, writing that doing so has given her a greater sense of accomplishment than "removing a polyp to prevent colon cancer or treating hepatitis C." According to Che, the approach takes just two minutes—preferably at the end of an appointment, so patients "realize the importance of the issue"—and involves just five steps:

    1. Acknowledge misinformation and your patient's apprehension.
    2. Remind your patient of your trusted relationship, and how they didn't take health advice from the news, friends, or internet before Covid-19 without a consultation, so why would they start now.
    3. Speak about your personal experience receiving the vaccine, and why you felt—and still feel—it was the best decision.
    4. If applicable, speak about your children and how you plan to vaccinate them as well.
    5. Come full circle, again acknowledging the patient's apprehension, but reminding them to have confidence that you, as their physician, have their best interest in mind.

    At the end of this two-minute conversation, Che writes that she asks patients if she can help schedule their vaccination appointment. Since employing this method, about 80% of her vaccine-hesitant patients agree to get the vaccine, she writes. For those who remain "contemplative" about the decision, she extends an offer to help answer any other questions or book an appointment for when they are ready. (Che, MedPage Today, 8/22; Swanson/Murphy, Associated Press, 8/10; Dornauer, USA Today, 3/23; Rose, NPR, 12/30/20)

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    Get the facts


    There are a lot of myths and misconceptions circulating about the progress of the pandemic and the vaccine rollout—and these can have very real implications for the United States' recovery.

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