Ah, fall: the season of orange and brown hues, bonfires, pumpkin carving and warm sweaters.
Sadly, autumn is more than beautiful colors and soft blankets; it also brings sniffling, stockpiling of cold medications and incessantly reminding children to wash their hands. There’s no question about it: Flu season is here.
Although the U.S. has quite a way to go before it can boast that all of its residents receive annual influenza vaccines, the country has made major progress over the past few years.
According to influenza estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the 2009-2010 flu season, 43.7% of children and 40.4% of adults were vaccinated. Just a few years later, during the 2014-2015 flu season, those percentages jumped to 59.3% for children and 43.6% for adults.
This increase likely has a lot to do with more widely dispersed information about the importance of vaccinations and the dangers of the flu – but there’s more to it. Flu shots are not offered solely in clinics anymore. They are also supplied by large chain drugstores, grocery stores and more, often free of charge (the site bills the consumer’s health insurance). Many people opt to get vaccinated at one of these locations rather than at their general practitioner’s office, and the reason is clear: the incentives.
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From coupons to gift cards to discounted memberships, drugstores and grocery stores offer a myriad of incentives to convince their customers to get their annual flu shots. But how do stores determine which incentives will appeal most to their customers? And, perhaps more importantly, what is the true motivation behind offering these incentives?
Much of the reasoning behind these incentives is fairly obvious: to increase vaccination rates. “We believe incentives help people make the right decision to get vaccinated and eliminate some of the barriers to not getting their annual flu shot,” said Davin Patel, coordinator of pharmacy injection services at Albertsons Companies, which include Acme, Safeway and 16 other well-known grocery chains.
Where permitted by law, Albertsons Companies’ pharmacies offer a 10% discount on a grocery shopping trip whenever a customer gets an immunization at the pharmacy. Additionally, most of their pharmacies offer a transfer incentive program, which promises eligible customers a $25 gift card if they fill a new or transferred prescription at the pharmacy and a $50 gift card after filling five additional prescriptions. Vaccinations, including flu shots, qualify as new prescriptions within this offer.
“We also provide ongoing educational information in our printed and electronic media to help incentivize people to get vaccinated,” Patel added. “This season, we provided specific education about the quadrivalent and high dose vaccine we currently offer in our pharmacies and that provides the maximum available protection for the whole family.”
Many people, particularly those in more at-risk populations such as the elderly or those living with a chronic illness, don’t necessarily need an extra incentive to convince them to get a flu vaccination each year. “For others, the extra incentive motivates a ‘now’ decision rather than procrastination,” said Patel. For Patel, encouraging customers to get vaccinated sooner rather than later is the goal: “The overall vaccination rate might be slightly better with incentives, but getting people to decide to become vaccinated earlier is highly significant,” he said.
When grocery stores and other similar places offer incentives with their flu shots, however, it can be expected that there’s more to it than a desire to increase vaccination rates. Even if customers come through the door seeking out a flu shot, the fact is that they are getting through that door. With incentives like coupons, customers are encouraged to stay after the vaccination and shop around a bit.
Still, marketing is not the sole factor motivating these companies – and it may not even be the primary motivating factor. “We are motivated by a desire to increase vaccination rates, increase community focus on prevention, decrease the spread of infectious disease and give our pharmacists opportunities to serve and be recognized as primary care providers,” said Patel.
Use in Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare professionals who work in settings outside of mainstream pharmacies may wonder how these incentives can apply to them. Clinics and hospitals typically can’t offer the same incentives as grocery stores, nor can they always afford to offer flu vaccines free of charge – so what can they do to make sure their patients get vaccinated?
“At Urgent Care Extra, we have typically offered $5 off a flu shot when you show the clinic our social media promotion image,” shared Kaycie Smith, digital marketing director at Urgent Care Extra, a system of urgent care clinics in Arizona. “Not only are we looking to get people vaccinated to stop the spread of the flu, but we also want to show Arizona residents that our goal is to keep them healthy.”
Offering incentives alongside annual flu shots doesn’t only benefit physicians working within stores. Like it or not, business is playing an increasingly large role in the healthcare sector. No matter how many qualified physicians practice in a single location, that practice cannot thrive without patients. Flu shot incentives can help health systems of every size not only promote vaccination, but promote the services that they can offer their communities.
Sarah Sutherland is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: [email protected]
Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Flu vaccination coverage, United States, 2014-15 influenza season. 2016.