Physician Recommendations Could Increase Vaccination Rates

Physician recommendations may be tied to an increase in vaccinations.

Doctors and healthcare organizations can use marketing materials to educate their patients on potentially life-saving vaccinations, which could serve as a patient retention tool.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that preteen boys and girls get vaccinated for human papillomavirus starting at age 11 or 12, but a recent report from the agency revealed the vaccination rates are far too low. HPV infections can cause a variety of cancers in both males and females, including cervical and throat. Despite these health concerns and the availability of the two HPV vaccines, the CDC reported only one-third of teenage girls have received all three doses, according to NBC News. Fifty-seven percent of girls and 35 percent of boys have received at least one dose. These findings were fairly stagnant from the 2012 numbers.

Dangers of HPV and Reasons for Low Vaccination Rates
HPV-related cancers account for 5 percent of all cancer worldwide, Medical News Today stated. Many of these are preventable with the vaccine. CDC statistics have revealed that 79 million Americans in their teens and early 20s have been infected with the virus, and 14 million people per year acquire a cancer-causing strain of the virus, NBC News reported.

When parents were questioned why they had not vaccinated their teenage children for HPV, many reported they had concerns about the safety. However, the vaccine has been available for eight years and no serious complications have been connected to it, and the CDC reported 67 million vaccines have been administered. The most common side effect is fainting, which is fairly typical of most vaccinations. Despite the relatively low uptake rates, instances of cervical cancer have been cut in half since 2006.

Additionally, the HPV vaccine is covered by health insurance, which is another reason the CDC strongly recommends it for preteens, NBC News said.

Physician Recommendations Are Crucial for Increasing Vaccination Rates
One of the reasons the CDC believes HPV vaccination rates are not as high as for other diseases is because pediatricians do not recommend it as strongly as other vaccines. The U.S. has a 10-year national objective to reach an 80 percent vaccination rate for HPV by 2020, and the CDC believes physician recommendations will be instrumental in achieving this goal.

The study found 86 percent of teens have received the Tdap vaccination in the past year, which guards against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, according to Medical News Today. Meningitis is another common vaccine for teenagers. Many school districts require the Tdap vaccine for students to attend, but the HPV vaccine is not a prerequisite in most locations. However, efforts from doctors may have a stronger effect than a high school requirement.

The CDC believes physician recommendations could increase acceptance and put the U.S. on track to meet the 80 percent rate by 2020. Highlighting the benefits of the HPV vaccination during routine checkups and when teens visit for other vaccines could increase the acceptance rate. In fact, the CDC reported that encouragement from pediatricians could increase the rate to 91 percent for girls by their thirteenth birthdays.

"Pediatricians and family physicians are uniquely situated to prevent missed opportunities by giving HPV vaccine during the same visit they give Tdap and meningococcal vaccines," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, according to Medical News Today.

Recommendations from a physician have been shown to be a deciding factor for parents. In fact, of parents whose daughters were vaccinated for HPV, 74 percent received a recommendation from a family doctor. The number was 72 percent for boys. In fact, when parents were questioned about not vaccinating their children against HPV, one of the top five reasons was that it had not been recommended, NBC News stated. These significant numbers show that physician involvement can be valuable when it comes to acceptance of potentially life-saving vaccinations.

How Physicians Can Make a Difference in Vaccination Rates
While in-person recommendations can make a big difference in parents' decisions to vaccinate their children, practices can highlight the importance of protecting adolescents from HPV in their direct marketing materials. Based on the strength of recommendations, physicians can make the effort to educate parents on the risks of not vaccinating for HPV. 

By collecting data from multiple sources, physicians' practices can determine when teenage patients are due to visit for other vaccines and send a mailer to parents to educate them on HPV cancers and the safety of the vaccine. This may prove to be a new source of patient engagement. Many pediatricians have long-standing relationships with families of patients that visit their practices, and these relationships can be leveraged to make an impact in a serious issue facing adolescents. A relatively simple move like sending postcards could help physicians increase vaccination rates. 

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