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Fighting vaccine hesitancy: Family physicians tap into digital communication tools to better inform patients


Family physicians across the country are harnessing the power of digital communication to tackle vaccine hesitancy, relying on text and email to share evidence-based resources regarding COVID-19 vaccines with patients who are hesitating or facing barriers to vaccination.


Physicians from the University of Ottawa’s Department of Family Medicine and the Institut du Savoir at the Montfort Hospital have partnered with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit to support family physician’s bid to bolster COVID-19 vaccine uptake. The Public Health Agency of Canada is funding this $450,000 project, which will involve 300 family physicians and nurse practitioners.


The goal of the pan-Canadian randomized controlled trial is to identify segments of the patient population with common reasons for vaccine hesitancy or lack of access, by age, language, education level, rurality, gender, and ethnicity. Primary care providers can then provide these groups with appropriately tailored digital information by e-mail and text message. 


“We want to help family physicians or primary care practitioners to learn about patients’ perspectives and survey if they are vaccinated or not. And, if not, why?” says Dr. Sharon Johnston, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and an Investigator at the Institut du Savoir Montfort and Bruyère Research Institute.


“By understanding the concerns and barriers faced by this subgroup, we can amass data that can guide us on communicating more effectively. We will be able to identify groups of patients who share similar reasons for being unvaccinated and common features, and we can create short messages to share reliable and relevant resources on COVID-19 vaccines to help them with their decision-making,” adds Dr. Johnston.


Family practitioners will use the Canadian Primary Care Information Network (CPIN), an automated patient engagement system for primary care practices, to rapidly inform patients about new procedures for clinic visits, availability of vaccines from COVID-19 to flu, or patient education materials for managing conditions like back pain. CPIN also offers a reliable and confidential system to collect anonymous feedback on patients’ experiences by including a link to a short survey at the end of each message. Practitioners can choose from a library of prepared messages and surveys or create their own so they can receive anonymous feedback to better understand their patient’s experiences and information needs.


“This tool will help primary care communicate better with patients in an effective way, reaching their patients more easily,” Johnston says. “By learning what patients prefer – such as a virtual visit or an in-person one, or what factors led to their hesitancy to be vaccinated – we can try to develop a tool that will lessen the workload, share good information and help our patients to make well informed decisions when it comes to their health.”

Primary care practitioners often see patients from within a 100-kilometre radius, making this innovative research project a means of delivering information to patients from a physician who may not be familiar with their home area and the services available to them.


In the news:

Project to support family physicians to better fight vaccine hesitancy

CBC All in a Day – August 31, 2021