Dr. Ann McGaffey Brings Creativity and Playfulness to Increase HPV Vaccinations

Dr. McGaffey with the Health Center gong and a submitted coloring page

Youth and adolescent vaccinations may have decreased nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not at the UPMC St. Margaret Bloomfield-Garfield Family Health Center. In 2020, Ann McGaffey, MD and her team at the Health Center saw their highest HPV vaccination rates to date. The Health Center completed HPV vaccinations for 81.6% of their adolescent patients last year, including improvement for males in receiving their first doses (91.8%) and overall improvement for males and females in completing second or third doses. Their secret? A coloring contest, another engagement tool added to their existing array of creative approaches to promote adolescent vaccines.

For years, UPMC St. Margaret Bloomfield-Garfield Family Health Center has been doing quality improvement projects to increase HPV vaccination rates (their work has been recognized by JHF as a past Fine Award Winner). They use a variety of strategies including rewards, such as ringing a gong, toy prizes, and drawings for gift cards, and health communications techniques to engage and encourage vaccination with patients and families. The presence of the gong and a variety of signage in visible places in the practice allow patients and families the opportunity to ask questions and remind them of the need to get the vaccine.

In 2019, the CDC recommended that males ages 9-26 should receive the HPV vaccine, and the Health Center jumped into action. Dr. McGaffey and her colleagues used 2020 as the centenary year for women's right to vote to discuss the need for "equal HPV vaccinations" between males and females. Male HPV vaccination rates have historically lagged those of females, and Dr. McGaffey's team creatively talked to patients and families about the women's right to vote and equality as a way to address equal HPV vaccination rates for males and females. They also introduced a new activity, a coloring contest, which included a women's right to vote and a leap year frog illustration, and winners of the contest were awarded gift cards.

"The coloring contest gave adolescents a way to participate, and many of them got really engaged, and then those illustrations became advertising for others to get their vaccine," said Ann McGaffey, MD, Medical Director of UPMC St. Margaret Bloomfield-Garfield Family Health Center. "This QI project has been a great success, and all of it was done during the pandemic year."

Their study highlighting this work, Harmonizing Male and Female Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Rates in a Family Medicine Residency Practice Quality Improvement Project, was awarded as the best oral presentation at the 3rd annual UPMC Graduate Education Medication Quality and Safety Conference at the beginning of April.

In a time where COVID-19 vaccines are on everyone's minds, Dr. McGaffey believes the creative thinking behind their HPV work can be applied to help those hesitant to get the COVID vaccine. She posted signs showing staff getting their vaccine and has materials on-hand to direct interested patients to vaccine sites, but she would love to see a reward system developed to encourage vaccination. Dr. McGaffey has seen firsthand the impact of positive messaging and creative engagement for vaccines in the environment, and she believes that leveraging the trust of local providers and leaders could be a great way to encourage COVID-19 vaccination. 

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