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How BlueCare works to encourage HPV vaccinations

Key Takeaways

  • BlueCare’s outreach programs are designed to improve access to care and address health disparities in the state.
  • BlueCare partners with providers to help TennCare members get access to the care that they need.
  • Primary Care Pediatrics in Millington received an award from the HPV Roundtable of Memphis for its outreach efforts to increase HPV vaccinations.

In Tennessee, vaccination for human papillomavirus, a common virus linked to several types of cancers, is lower than the U.S. average. BlueCare Tennessee, a subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee that helps manage the state’s Medicaid program, is working toward changing that. 

“We promote HPV vaccination because vaccination is cancer prevention,” says Darcy Knowles, program manager at BlueCare. “It’s part of our overall well-child efforts where we work with members, providers and the community to ensure members have access to the highest quality of care and that they’re able to get in and receive the services they need.” 

For members with children ages 9-11, BlueCare encourages HPV vaccinations through phone calls, physician practices and community events.   

“Children make up the majority of the TennCare population we serve,” Darcy says. “People tend to think, ‘Kids are healthy. They don’t need to go to the doctor unless they’re sick.’ But they do. It’s important for long-term outcomes and for long-term success to make sure our children get to the doctor and get the appropriate screenings and vaccinations to have a healthy adult life. That’s what our efforts are all about.” 

Addressing barriers and disparities in care 

Since the pandemic, BlueCare has seen changes in the way patients access care and the way children receive well-child services.  Many parents are hesitant about vaccines as a preventive health measure. Others are reluctant to bring their children to a health care office unless they’re sick.  

A variety of barriers to vaccinations exist across the state, including a lack of access to vaccine providers in rural areas.  

To administer vaccines to children on TennCare, a provider must be an official Vaccines for Children [VFC] site,” Darcy explains. “Some providers in rural areas or otherwise don’t serve many people on TennCare and aren’t a VFC site. BlueCare partners with those providers, awarding grants and offering support to help them become a VFC site and give BlueCare members in the area more convenient access to care.” 

As part of our efforts to study and address health equity in the community, BlueCare has also identified disparities among race. For example, Black members are less likely to have their childhood vaccinations than White, Hispanic or Asian members.  

Enhancing partnerships with physician practices 

“Direct member outreach has been part of our efforts for years, but based on the data, we knew we had to do more,” Darcy says.

“We’ve expanded outreach through community health events in partnership with physician practices. Our goal is to improve low vaccination rates and low preventive-care rates in targeted communities.”

In 2022, BlueCare partnered with 110 providers in 54 counties to host community health events. It’s also increased its outreach to and support of physician practices. 

Naloni Howard joined BlueCare a year ago as a performance improvement consultant and supports provider initiatives around well-child efforts. A big part of that is vaccinations, including HPV.  

“BlueCare is testing pilot programs to increase HPV vaccination rates,” Naloni says. “In the Memphis area, when patients check in to their provider’s office, they’re given a QR code they can scan to watch an educational video on the importance of getting the HPV vaccine. They can watch on their phone or on an iPad at the office. We’re monitoring the results, and if successful, we’ll roll it out across the state.” 

Naloni serves on the executive committee of the HPV Roundtable of Memphis and Shelby County, which provides resources and training to increase HPV vaccinations. She works with physician practices to access trainings to help them improve vaccination rates. 

Celebrating practice recognition

One of the practices Naloni works with is Primary Care Pediatrics in Millington, part of BlueCare’s video pilot to educate members about HPV vaccinations. Ashley Brooks, a registered nurse at the practice, joined the HPV Roundtable last spring and received training on overcoming HPV vaccine hesitancy.  

Ashley created a contest at the practice to improve HPV vaccination rates and championed the initiative during staff meetings. Practice nurses monitored the rates of successful immunizations, and the nurse whose efforts resulted in the most vaccines given won the HPV vaccine challenge. In September, Primary Care Pediatrics received an award from the HPV Roundtable of Memphis for its outreach efforts. 

The staff at Millington-based Primary Care Pediatrics celebrating their recognition as the inaugural awardee of the 2023 Brooke Morgan Community Champion Award from the HPV Roundtable of Memphis

“Primary Care Pediatrics is continually working to close gaps in care,” says Shanea Mason, a BlueCare provider incentive consultant who works with Primary Care Pediatrics. “They’re among the smaller practices I work with, but they’re high performing and proactive in connecting with the community.”

“They hold Saturday clinics to serve members who can’t get to the office during the week and host community events at their location.” 

In September, BlueCare partnered with the practice to host a “Flu-a-Palooza” event focused on administering flu shots. The event offered face painting, an on-site ice cream truck and outdoor games to help alleviate some of the hesitancy around the vaccine. The practice scheduled 60 appointments and administered dozens of vaccinations at the event. BlueCare also provided educational materials to attendees.  

“Primary Care Pediatrics is an example of our efforts across the state to be innovative and collaborative with our provider partners,” Darcy says. “Together, we close gaps in care and improve the lives of our members.” 

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