Guess what happened this past weekend? The flu season officially started. Although most people don’t like the flu season, the advent of flu season is better news than the LSU homecoming game score. Someone should invent a vaccine for the malaise that oozes out of Tiger Stadium and infects the entire state of Louisiana when LSU loses a game deliberately stacked in their favor. Where is Les Miles when you need him? I’m not even sure where Troy is.
Back to the flu. Last year’s flu season certainly wasn’t the worst we’ve seen but an estimated 71,000 flu related hospitalizations were prevented because people received the flu shot. Is your hospitalization rate high? Lower it with the flu vaccine. A full 2.5 Million MD visits were prevented because people received the flu shot. That’s about equal to the population of the state of Oregon.
We know that Medicare doesn’t give away stuff for free so have you asked why there is no charge for the vaccine? The total number of hospitalizations for the flu each year runs about 200,000.
And yet, in home health and hospice, our hands may be tied depending state specific pharmacy laws. In Louisiana, you have to figure that if LSU can’t beat Troy at our homecoming game, we are likely worthless against a deadly virus that kills between 3,000 and 50,000 people each year depending on the severity of the flu season. Because most states do not allow nurses to carry medications that are not labeled for individual patients, multi-use vials are not allowed to be carried by nurses just in case a patient is in the mood for a flu shot. While getting an order is not difficult, many nurses are not comfortable with injecting someone with the vaccine without having an emergency kit available for a possible reaction and it is impractical and wasteful to carry around a patient specific emergency kit for every flu vaccination given since it won’t be used.
According to the World Health Organization, for every 500,000 vaccinations given, someone will go into anaphylaxis (a condition causing the inability to breathe kind of like the way Louisiana residents gasped for air after Troy beat LSU on Saturday Night).
There is also a small but significant risk of coming down with Guillain-Barre’ after the flu vaccine. Although this is one of the more undesirable effects of the vaccine, many people don’t realize that the flu causes more cases of Guillain-Barre’ than the vaccine. So, roll the dice. Get no vaccine and hope you don’t get the flu or get the vaccine and have a tiny chance of contracting Guillain-Barre’. Of course, if you or your patients opt to forego the flu vaccine from your fall schedule this year and wind up sick with the flu, your chances of coming down with a pesky paralytic illness will be greater than those who didn’t get a flu shot and those that did get a flu shot combined.
So, here’s what you do.
- First go to the CDC Flu page. There you will find all kinds of teaching materials for both patients and staff in multiple languages designed for various education levels.
- Check on your state’s regulations about the flu vaccine. If permitted to do so, get said permission in writing.
- If you can’t carry flu unlabeled flu vaccine (much like LSU can’t carry a football), use this nifty widget to find out where your patients can receive a vaccine. You can even put it on your website if you want.
- Coordinate with your patients and physicians to get orders for patients who are truly bedbound or live in rural areas so distant that a simple trip to the drug store is out of the question.
- Encourage everyone in the household to get vaccinated. Leave one of those cute flyers from the CDC website taped to the refrigerator along with the list of nearby flu shot providers to reach the maximum number of family members.
- You can also vaccinate other Medicare beneficiaries in the household if you get orders from their physicians. (Technically, Medicare doesn’t require an order but I highly recommend that you give nobody any medication without one; especially someone you haven’t fully assessed and are unaware of their history and physical).
- If your agency is going to vaccinate a lot of people, consider billing for the flu shot. I have no earthly idea of how this is done but Medicare has graciously published a little info sheet for people who know what they are doing. Note that you can only bill for patients with Part B.
The truth is that no matter what you do, the fact that Troy beat LSU cannot be changed. But imagine if you or your patients get the flu and are too sick to do anything that takes your mind off the greatest LSU humiliation in recent history. A situation like that could be the end zone for countless Louisiana residents.
And if you see Les Miles, tell him to come back.