A recent AHA webinar brought together leaders from the association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care organizations nationwide. In efforts to increase the number of pregnant people getting the COVID-19 vaccines, health care leaders shared their key takeaways to help doctors and clinicians best protect pregnant people from COVID-19.
Here are their insights:
- Take extra time. In discussing the COVID-19 vaccines with pregnant patients, clinicians are encouraged to take their time and practice patience and empathy. With high patient volumes and the public health crisis, doctors are often pressed for time, but health care leaders on the webinar underscored the value of taking extra time to address mental health concerns, safety questions and dispelling any myths surround COVID-19 vaccines on pregnant people. Some pregnant people harbor a distrust of the vaccine and/or providers, which often stems from misinformation from family and friends or media coverage. Taking the time to clear up any misconceptions can serve patients in the long run.
- Word choice matters. Health care leaders can work to choose words carefully, eliminate unconscious biases and ask patients how they are feeling instead of making assumptions in efforts to improve patient outcomes. Experts agreed that language barriers can often be a problem, which requires taking more time during visits, speaking respectfully and ensuring cultural competence in exchanges with a diverse array of patients.
- Improve patient access to care. Focusing on meeting patients where they are can go a long way in earning trust, respect and humility. With the increase in telemedicine visits throughout the pandemic, more patients were able to see a provider when they needed. Rural patients in particular can benefit from virtual care by eliminating the need to drive hours to see a doctor.
- Consider social determinants of health. The need to recognize societal factors that influence health are now more important than ever. Examining the needs of a community and tapping into partnerships like community health workers—who have already built a trusting relationship with pregnant moms and are a resource for patients to get honest information— will only serve to better reach patients and enhance understanding of decision making. Leaders can ensure CHWs and other professionals can better integrate into maternal care teams.
- Find allies, community partnerships. In addressing pregnant patients, clinicians should exhibit consistent messaging before and during pregnancy. In addition, leveraging other clinical partners such as primary care physicians, nurses, midwives and others in the community who are having similar conversations can help to counter misinformation. Hospitals, health systems and others can work with organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the AHA to assure that providers are aware of the current recommendations, and are sharing those resources with colleagues and staff to have conversations with patients.
- Take each opportunity to educate. There are multiple touch points to connect with patients about the vaccine. Take advantage of each visit with unvaccinated patients to discuss their concerns, emphasize the data and listen. Physicians can model behaviors for their emerging residents, taking the initiative to have tough conversations with patients. “We have the data to show that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” said Dana Meaney-Delman, M.D., chief of infant outcome monitoring research and prevention branch at the CDC. “I’m saddened that we still have these low vaccination rates. What we’re trying to do is to get the message out that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks.”