How barcoding could help GPs deliver 'the biggest flu programme in history'

GP practices should use barcode technology in flu clinics to reduce admin time and overcome social distancing challenges ahead of the ‘biggest flu vaccination programme in history', an award-winning GP has argued.

Barcodes: flu programme solution (Photo: Janaka Dharmasena/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Barcodes: flu programme solution (Photo: Janaka Dharmasena/EyeEm/Getty Images)

GP practices have been told to 'gear up for a major expansion of the winter flu programme’ as part of plans to modify QOF requirements for 2020/21.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock recently announced that the government had procured enough vaccines to roll out the 'biggest flu vaccination programme in history' amid concerns about the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 coinciding with a flu outbreak.

Practices have yet to be told how the flu campaign will be expanded, but with social distancing rules and more vaccines to deliver, the BMA has warned that delivering this year's programme will take longer and be more expensive.

Barcoded flu vaccines

A barcoded flu clinic system is a creative solution to these issues, according to Bromley GP Dr Mark Essop, who says his award-winning idea would help to vaccinate patients at speed and in large numbers.

Explaining how the system works, Dr Essop said: ‘The system was introduced in 2012 and has been used successfully over a number of years in several practices. It involves sending each patient an invitation letter with a barcoded, tear-off ticket which they bring to the practice flu clinic.

'The tickets are then used to populate a list of patients, to which vaccination data is added into EMIS as a batch process.'

While working at a practice of 12,000 patients, Dr Essop said his team would vaccinate around 500 to 600 patients in one day, spread across a three-hour period.

Immunising at speed

He stressed the major advantage of the system was the speed at which clinics could deliver jabs to patients, a vital factor during the pandemic.

‘The beauty of this system is that the patient doesn't hang around. They come in, there is somebody at the door to [talk them through the procedure] when they come into the room, they hand the ticket in, they get the jab and then they are gone.

‘So if you've got big numbers of people and you want to keep them apart, it's great for that because the flow is incredibly fast, especially if you've got more than one clinician doing the jabbing.’

Dr Essop said his former practice had managed to reduce admin time from 30 hours to just two hours by using the system. He also said that patient satisfaction was high, with people typically waiting no longer than 10 minutes.

COVID challenges

GPonline recently reported that practices are planning drive-through flu clinics to maximise uptake of jabs this year as they look to navigate social distancing measures. But not all practices will have the space to innovate in this way.

Dr Essop said that barcoded flu jabs would allow practices to work remotely, away from their practices because no technology was required on site. Data entry could be done later when clinicians return to the surgery.

To add to existing challenges, flu targets are also going through primary care networks (PCNs) for the first time this year. Dr Essop said his system leant its hand to multiple practices working together.

‘If you create a list of NHS numbers of patients from two different surgeries, when you import that list into surgery A, it will only recognise the patients from surgery A - and you can then import the same list to surgery B will only recognise the patients from there. It automatically filters out or in the correct patients for that surgery,' he said.

GP innovation

‘You could literally run your flu clinic in a field for six practices - it's a really flexible system. It lends itself to the social distancing, and any other measures that we might have to put in,’ he added.

With only a few weeks left until practices start delivering the flu vaccine, the Bromley GP urged surgeries to use his system for its ‘distinct benefits’ over traditional methods. He highlighted that practices would ony need to pay for a barcode scanner and postage to work in this way.

‘During this period we need to be innovative to respond to the pandemic and I think this is one of those innovative responses that will certainly allow us to try and carry on as normal. It's a way of delivering the vaccine in a different way and I suspect that if practices try it this year, they’ll do it every year. It just takes so much pressure off the practice.’

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