No Patient Too Young for Patient-Centered Care
Pharmacist Hetal Patel (right) engages with an infant prior to administering a COVID-19 vaccine at Lebanon Family Pharmacy in Lebanon, Tennessee.
For Hetal Patel, PharmD, the key to success with pediatric vaccinations is always addressing her young patients directly—no matter their age or ability to communicate.
“We talk to the babies through the whole vaccination process, even though they can’t talk back, because they do understand,” said Patel, who owns and operates Lebanon Family Pharmacy in Lebanon, Tennessee. As the first pharmacy in Tennessee authorized to be a Vaccines for Children (VFC) program site, Patel’s pharmacy offers COVID-19 and other pediatric vaccines to children as young as 6 months of age. Patient-centered care begins with them.
“You can’t ignore the child and just keep talking to the mother,” Patel said.
This approach, Patel believes, is what brings parents from all over the region to have their children vaccinated at her pharmacy. The pharmacist has provided care to families who’ve driven up to 2 hours east or west across the state to get there. Patients have come in from Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the north and from as far south as Birmingham, Alabama, more than 3 hours away.
The young patient from Birmingham has autism. Every time he’d been due for vaccines back home, his mother had tried to get them at their pediatrician’s office and walked away disappointed. According to the parent, “the boy was more than the pediatrician could handle,” and therefore decided to bring him to Lebanon Family Pharmacy for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“She wondered how coming here would be any different because they’d always had so much trouble at the pediatrician and their local pharmacies,” Patel recalled.
But the boy’s mother was willing to try anything to get him vaccinated.
Though the child didn’t speak much, Patel never stopped talking to him throughout the appointment. She would tell him when she was going to lift his shirt sleeve or move his arm, asking him if it was okay every step of the way.
Talk to pediatric patients throughout the vaccination process, regardless of their age or ability to communicate.
Once Patel had vaccinated the boy, the mother had tears in her eyes. “She said she’d never seen someone have so much patience with him and try to understand him. But to me, the child was so sweet. He didn’t do anything that any other child wouldn’t do.”
At Lebanon Family Pharmacy, Patel and her staff have created an environment that feels safe and welcoming for pediatric patients, including toys and a small library of children’s books.
Patel also ensures jittery parents feel safe and comfortable, never rushed. That, she says, simply takes time. Patel answers all of the parents’ questions before they ever write their name on a form.
“People seek your attention and time,” she said. “When you provide that—the time to answer all of their questions—I think that’s what makes parents comfortable having their child vaccinated. I’ve never had a parent walk away and not get the shot after I’ve explained the vaccine to them.”
Resources to Tailor Your Outreach to specific populations and Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccines are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.