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Pharmacies use automated texts to reach those eligible for COVID vaccine

The idea is to free up pharmacy staff as they add COVID-19 vaccinations to their regular workload.

OREGON, USA — Local pharmacies have a lot of new work ahead of them as they join COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The federal government started shipping about a million doses to 6,500 pharmacies nationwide this week. Pharmacies in Oregon and SW Washington are included but have faced delays as they wait for doses to arrive.

However, other medical groups across the country are using tools to get vaccinations scheduled.

DrFirst is a medical tech company that partners with hospitals, medical offices and pharmacies to connect with patients.

One of its services called Backline sends automated, customized text messages and email alerts to people. Starting in 2020, those began to include COVID-19 test results and now, alerts to people who are eligible for the vaccine.

On Wednesday, DrFirst's Backline sent about 25,000 text messages to Americans waiting for a vaccine.

"Meet patients where they want to be met," DrFirst chief medical officer Dr. Colin Banas told KGW. "Being able to mass notify people and funnel them into the right direction through automation really does free up that manpower to go do the high-touch needs of patient care."

Banas said the system can detect when someone opens messages or leaves them unread. This means someone with less access to technology will get notified through a follow-up phone call.

Oregon State University professor Dr. Joseph Agor told KGW last week pharmacies will likely need extra help to free up staff as they join the federal vaccination effort.

"They're doubling the work for people without doubling the amount of help," Agor said. "Additional manpower is always helpful...For example, I can't administer a vaccine, but I can certainly help in documenting data."

He suggested volunteers or supplemental staff help pharmacies with administrative work, such as documenting vaccine side effects and scheduling second doses.

That extra help and automation from services like DrFirst's Backline can help pharmacists tend to regular patients and those getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

"It's a way to break down those barriers and deliver safe care," Banas said.

Most local pharmacies still do not have available appointments but plan to open appointments this week as doses arrive. 

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