Virtua Teams Rally to Guide Community through COVID-19 Appointment Scheduling

February 11, 2021 - As evidence of their “Here for Good” spirit, more than 200 Virtua Health colleagues recently called 10,400 people over several days to resolve duplicate vaccine appointments, freeing up some 5,000 vaccine slots at the Burlington County COVID-19 Vaccine Mega-Site.

This massive undertaking occurred in late January, shortly after Virtua’s appointment scheduling for the mega-site opened to the public. Given the high demand for vaccines, more than 300,000 people registered for appointments within just a few days. When the Virtua team looked at the appointment database more closely, they detected something odd.

“We identified multiple instances in which the same person had two or more appointments. In some extreme cases, a single person had 20 or more vaccine appointments. Clearly, this was a big problem and we needed to find a solution fast,” said Malik Bahar, director of the access center [phone bank] at Virtua Health.

According to Tom Gordon, chief information officer, Virtua always strives to put the customer first.

“We knew there was a lot of confusion and anxiety around the scheduling process, and so we wanted to add a more personal touch,” said Gordon. “Our team did not want to cancel people’s duplicate appointments without explanation, but we knew it was essential to remove the erroneous appointments from the schedule to make room for other individuals. After thinking it through, we decided to start making calls.”

A team of 200-plus Virtua colleagues representing the access center, information technology, patient accounting, finance, and internal audit came together and, collectively, placed more than 10,400 phone calls. As it turned out, most people who had created two or more vaccine appointments — about 70 percent — had done so inadvertently. (The technical loophole that allowed for this has been resolved.)

“The list seemed overwhelming at first. However, as we spoke with each patient, their gratitude and relief was so rewarding," said Tessa Merry, Virtua I.T. support specialist. “It felt truly wonderful to be a part of something that was bringing so much hope to people in the community we serve.”

Maria Foschi, Virtua assistant vice president of technology, added, “Most of the members of our team do not have patient-facing roles, so it was rewarding to speak with and assist these patients directly. We received so much appreciation; it made it clear we had done the right thing and made a difference.”

By canceling the unnecessary extra appointments, these Virtua teams freed up more than 5,000 appointments in the scheduling platform, which were eagerly claimed by other eligible people in the community.

Tom Buckley, Virtua’s vice president of revenue cycle, described how what initially seemed like a daunting task turned out to be a unifying activity for all involved.

“Our colleagues demonstrated our culture by dedicating so much time and effort to this cause. As they say, many hands make light work,” Buckley said.