Convenience the key to better vaccination rates

Rather than trying to change patients' beliefs about vaccinations, doctors would be better served by making it easier for patients to get those shots, says a psychology professor. 

Research shows that behavior is less influenced by attempts to change a person’s beliefs and more influenced by changes in the environment that facilitate the choice of a healthy option, writes Gretchen Chapman, Ph.D., acting co-director at Rutgers University’s Center for Cognitive Science, in NEJM Catalyst. So, for instance, people will be more likely to eat fruit if there is a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table instead of candy. 

The same strategy applies to vaccinations, Chapman says. Doctors need to make it convenient for patients to get flu shots and other vaccinations, she says. The resurgence of illnesses such as measles, mumps, diphtheria, pertussis and other vaccine-preventable diseases makes vaccination more important than ever.

“A powerful method for changing behavior is to make the desired behavior the default--that is, harnessing the tendency of individuals to stick with the option that will be selected by default if they do not specify otherwise,” she writes.

In one study, a university emailed employees about flu shots. Those who were told they had been automatically scheduled for an appointment for their flu shot that they could cancel, had higher vaccination rates than those who received an email that instructed them to make an appointment to get the shot.

So, while doctors can tell patients how safe and effective vaccinations are, they would more likely increase vaccination rates if they offer shots to patients at convenient times, such as at a drop-in flu clinic. If patients can’t get to the doctors’ office, physicians can encourage them to stop by a pharmacy that offers vaccinations for flu, pneumonia and shingles.

“Environmental designs that increase the convenience of healthy behaviors such as vaccination are often more effective than educational efforts that target beliefs,” Chapman says.