How Piedmont Healthcare turned to a mobile app to streamline COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The Piedmont Now app and Epic’s MyChart can send out links to start the vaccine scheduling process for patients. (Piedmont Healthcare)

Piedmont Healthcare wanted to make it easier to engage with patients where they are using technology that most patients have in their pockets. About five years ago, the health system began using a mobile platform, Gozio Health, to allow patients to find providers and schedule appointments.

When COVID-19 hit, Piedmont Healthcare, an 11-hospital health system in Georgia, pivoted to use the app, powered by Gozio Health and called Piedmont Now, to coordinate vaccine distribution, according to Katie Logan, chief consumer and strategic planning officer for Piedmont, which covers the area ranging from the north Georgia mountains to close to the border of Alabama.

“As we looked at things like vaccine distribution in the midst of COVID, or even earlier in the process around hospital closures and testing access, our mobile app really became a key channel for us to connect with our users, with our patients and communities to communicate what they need to know during a time like COVID,” Logan told Fierce Healthcare. “And then certainly to streamline the process for accessing a vaccine.”

Piedmont then integrated the Epic electronic health record platform with the mobile app using single-sign-on technology, explained Jennifer Melby, the health system’s executive director for consumer experience and digital innovation.

A wayfinding feature guides patients to the closest care in their area, including primary care, urgent care and emergency rooms, Logan said. Patients also can find information about what is happening within the health system.

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“Gozio clients use the platform to enable patients to schedule vaccine appointments, help patients navigate to the appointments and communicate timely, relevant information via geo-triggered push notifications,” Joshua Titus, CEO and founder of Gozio Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

Working with Gozio “has allowed us to do things faster, allowed us to incorporate a lot of new functionality, and then certainly that integration with Epic MyChart is a key component of that,” Logan said.

The Piedmont Now app and Epic’s MyChart can send out links to start the vaccine scheduling process for patients.

The app, along with the health system’s website, answers questions on where to find the vaccine and whether patients are eligible. In December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines calling for people ages 16 and up to be eligible for the vaccines. Earlier this month, the CDC updated those guidelines to recommend the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to kids as young as 12.

Gozio built the app to Piedmont’s specs, and then Piedmont gained access to the app’s content management system, according to Logan. They conferred with Gozio on larger changes to the app but handled other changes to a certain point, Logan said.

“I think the partnership that they brought to the table to help us think through that and respond quickly and get it out and live was something we wouldn't have been able to accomplish if we didn’t have that infrastructure and relationship in place,” Logan said.

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The health system already had the app when COVID hit and then adapted it to fit the organization’s needs, Melby noted. Gozio enables push notifications to be sent to patients to send information about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Pre-COVID, the idea of sending mobile messages to hundreds of thousands of patients and visitors didn't make sense,” Titus said. “Then COVID hit and instantly created the need for more active modes of communication. Within 10 days of identifying this critical need, Gozio was able to provide our clients with a geo-fenced push notification feature.”

The scheduling flow is a key part of the mobile app, according to Logan.

“Once all the vaccine rollout was happening, it was a very strategic way for us to get the information out to our patients and our community members on who was eligible to access it,” Melby said. “Then once you were eligible per the state's guidelines, it was a great tool, an access point, just to go ahead and get yourself booked for that appointment.”

University Health in San Antonio, Texas, also worked with Gozio Health to support its vaccine distribution effort.  As the largest vaccine effort in the greater San Antonio/Bexar County region of Texas, University Health has drawn on the power of push notifications and seamless patient communication within the Gozio platform to simplify scheduling and complete more than 350,000 vaccinations.

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As government officials work to overcome vaccine hesitancy and get more shots into people’s arms, it will take the work of doctors and health professionals who people trust, Logan said.

“There have evolved to be all these different access points. You've got local public health department sites, you've got state mass vaccination sites, now you’ve got grocery stores and retail pharmacies,” Logan said. “Then here in Georgia, you have health system access, and I think what we have found is that patients and consumers trust and go to their health system for information and guidance.”

A next step for Piedmont will be to further integrate virtual care options into the mobile app, Melby noted.

“I think the year taught us that people are ready and willing to do more digitally than maybe many of us thought previously,” she said.