Online check-in makes getting flu shot easier for students

Immunization innovation aims to help students fit influenza vaccination into their busy schedules.

An innovative online pilot project is making it easier for students to get the flu shot at the University of Alberta. An 'express check-in' tool allows people to register for their vaccination ahead of time online, which helps them to get through the clinic faster.

Once they've registered, a bar code is sent to the individual's smartphone. At the same time, their immunization record will be waiting for them at the clinic, which allows them to bypass much of the registration process and significantly expedites the process of getting their vaccination.

"We want students, staff and faculty to get their flu shot, so any way that we can encourage that is a win," said Robin Everall, interim dean of students. "We're hoping that by making the clinic process easier and faster, more students will fit getting the flu shot into their busy schedules."

"This is important not only for their health, but their academics as well," added Everall. "Catching the flu and getting sick can have a dramatic effect on a student's semester."

Past studies have shown that 21 per cent of U of A students suffer from flu, cold or sore throat each year, having a negative impact on their academic performance. The U of A hopes to maximize the number of students getting vaccinated to reduce the chance of flu keeping students away from class.

Students who don't register in advance will still benefit from the new system. They can register through the tablet-based electronic system implemented last year. Now in its second phase, the project has been supported by grants from Alberta Health totalling $400,000.

"This pilot system is designed specifically for the U of A influenza campaign. However, it was developed with an eye to future use by other clinics in Alberta or elsewhere," said Kevin Friese, executive director of University Wellness Services. "While our main goal is to help students and staff here at the U of A, piloting a system like this gives us a chance to help the greater community."

The express check-in feature is a key part of the second phase of the public health information exchange (PHIX) project. The first phase, rolled out at last year's clinic, eliminated the use of a triplicate provincial immunization form that was costly to produce, maintain and store. The system also features real-time uploading of vaccination information to the provincial database, which is a tremendous improvement to public health tracking. There's a benefit to patients as well: patients will leave the clinic with a proof of immunization, but it will no longer be their only record of immunization.

The U of A's annual mass immunization campaign is a collaboration led by the University Health Centre and includes the Faculty of Nursing and the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Up to 3,500 influenza vaccinations are administered each year, making it the largest mass immunization clinic in the province. Vaccination clinics are also co-ordinated for students and staff at Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana Campus and the Michener Park residence.

Now in its 14th year, the clinic also provides a practical learning opportunity for the health-care practitioners of tomorrow in a safe and supervised clinic setting. All student immunizers, their supervisors and clinic managers complete a four-tiered training program. All in, up to 200 nursing and pharmacy students will administer vaccinations to U of A students and staff at 40 stations.

"It's great to be able to put the skills learned in the classroom into practice," said nursing student Rachelle McKee. "During these flu clinics you get to experience the important role we play in public health, especially with regard to health promotion and public policy."

"I think a large misconception is that people don't get the flu shot because they've never had the flu. It's like arguing that seat belts aren't important if you've never been in an accident," added Scott Wakeham, a senior pharmacy student. "Getting vaccinated isn't just about protecting yourself. Influenza is very contagious, and you could be spreading it to people around you without even knowing you're sick."

The U of A's influenza clinic runs from Nov. 3-6 in Dinwoodie Lounge in the Students' Union Building and is open to U of A students and staff from 9 a.m. to 3p.m. each day. More information can be found on the flu campaign website.