William Schaffner, MD, is professor of preventive medicine and medicine (infectious diseases) at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. Additionally, he serves as a hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Hospital and is immediate past-president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

We have the power. Let’s use it.

Nearly nine out of 10 primary care doctors say they discuss vaccines with all their patients. I’m not sure what they’re saying or who they’re staying it to, but about half of American adults say they’ve never talked to their physician about immunizations other than the influenza vaccine, and one in five don’t recall any vaccine discussion at all. These and other interesting findings were reported at a recent NFID news conference.

There also is a big disagreement about who starts the discussion. Almost all physicians claim they or members of their staff bring up the topic of immunizations. Surprise! Consumers report otherwise, with 45% saying that they, not their physicians, are the first to mention vaccines.

So, are patients not listening, or are we not speaking?

Enough of the “we said, they said” debate. Let’s stop pointing fingers and get to the core of the problem. We need to fix the communication gap, because it has a very real, negative effect on our patients.

Guess what is the greatest patient motivator regarding vaccines? We are! In survey after survey, somewhere around 90% of adults say a strong recommendation from their physician would motivate them to be immunized.

So we need to be explicit. We need to make sure that patients hear our recommendations. We need to be firm when we talk about vaccines. And we need to encourage the same forcefulness in our colleagues, especially primary care physicians, who see patients most often — long before they come to us infectious disease specialists.

I encourage all of us to think how we raise the subject. Are we mentioning vaccines as we walk out the door? Or are we making it as basic a part of every adult patient visit as blood pressure measurement? We need to be clear and convincing. We need to leave no room for doubt.

We have the power. Let’s use it, at every opportunity; to be sure patients know that they need vaccinations. And let’s be sure they receive them.

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