Study leader Stuart Beatty, a pharmacist with Ohio State's College of Pharmacy, says the low vaccination rate is due to a combination of factors including lack of awareness, cost, access to clinics able to store the fragile vaccine and the fact that face-to-face appointments don't offer enough time to discuss shingles, also known as herpes zoster.
"With older patients, there are usually more pressing health issues to discuss during routine appointments, so herpes zoster falls off the list," Beatty says in a statement. "Plus, as a live vaccine, it's not appropriate for people with certain illnesses. There usually isn't time to figure all that out in a regular office visit."
However, the study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, found older patients who receive written information on shingles were almost three times more likely to get vaccinated than those who didn't receive a similar communication.
For the six-month study, the research team used electronic medical record data to identify more than 2,500 patients age 60 and older without a documented herpes zoster vaccination, Beatty says.
Some were randomized to receive information about shingles via a secure email linked to their online personal health record or a mailed postcard, while others received no information outside what they may have gotten in a routine doctor visit.
Patients with an active PHR who received email information on shingles had the highest vaccination rate of 13.2 percent compared with a rate of 5 percent for patients with an active PHR that did not receive the email information. But for patients who did not have an active PHR but did receive mailed information, the vaccination rate was 5.2 percent compared with a rate of 1.8 percent for patients without an active PHR and who received no information, the study says.
"It took pharmacists a matter of minutes to review the chart and mail out a prescription. This saved the physician time, the patient time, and improved the overall health of our patients," said Dr. Neeraj Tayal, an Ohio State Wexner Medical Center general internist. "By utilizing pharmacists as members of a care team, many perceived logistical barriers were managed and overcome."