Employee Engagement, Participation Help Spread the Flu Shot Message

HealthLeaders Media Staff, September 9, 2009

My dentist and his hygienist entertained me at my appointment last week with a debate over the H1N1 virus and whether or not they'd be getting flu shots this year. The hygienist is opposed to flu shots in general. My dentist thinks that's stupid. (I'm summarizing, but that's the gist of it).

It's a debate that's raging in hospital settings, as well—nurses in particular are notoriously skeptical of flu shots and often refuse to get them. But this year, with the threat of H1N1 the stakes are much higher and hospitals are working hard to communicate to their internal audiences the importance of getting the shot.

In some cases, hospitals are taking a hard-line approach, mandating that all employees get the shot or get fired. That's the case in Albany, NY, where a new emergency regulation adopted by the State Hospital Review and Planning Council requires that all hospital workers get the flu vaccine—and that it be a requirement for employment, according to the (Albany) Times Union.

At Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, the first U.S. hospital to require flu vaccination for staffers, employees who object must wear a face mask during flu season or possibly be fired, according to the Associated Press. Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago and Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia have also joined a handful of hospitals that have made seasonal flu shots mandatory for all workers. Some also plan to include swine flu, the AP reports.

But are there alternatives to the “do it or else" method—or at least complementary communications tactics that encourage employees to get vaccinated in a more positive way?

The 8-hospital Wellmont Health System, which serves Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, has found a way. In one of the best examples of employee engagement I've seen, they recruited dozens of employees to participate in a music video—set to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Gimme Three Steps."

The message: “Help protect yourself—and our patients—from seasonal and H1N1 flu." (Seasonal flu shots are available for employees who come in direct contact with patients now, the organization says H1N1 vaccinations will begin soon.)

Head on over to the MarketShare blog to watch the video. I'd also love to hear what other hospitals, health systems, and clinics are doing to communicate the importance of getting a flu shot this year.

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