Overcoming Needle Anxiety with In-Home Flu Shots

Written by Adley Lemke, Hammer volunteer and 3rd year pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota & Melissa Hutchins, Program Manager, Zealand apartments. To learn more about Hammer’s people-centered approach visit www.hammer.org

Introducing Patient Centered Care
Adley: Needle anxiety has always been a fear that resonated with me, because I too suffer. During some small talk about school and pharmacy course work, Melissa casually mentioned she wished Zealand residents could get their flu shots at the apartment building because a few were very afraid of needles. Immediately, delivering an in-home flu shot service became my mission!

A few of members of my fraternity, Kappa Epsilon (KE), mentioned they had a desire to administer flu vaccines but no opportunities to do so. After explaining my idea, they joined in with an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm. The only challenge then was to find a pharmacist and pharmacy willing to supply the vaccine and oversee the delivery. This was not so difficult an obstacle as the first pharmacy I cold called, the New Hope Walgreen’s, had a wonderful manager, Michelle Lemke. Michelle, as it turns out has been traveling to group homes and nursing home providing the flu vaccine in patient’s homes for years. She was absolutely thrilled by the idea of taking on students to share this passion for truly patient-centered care while preventing influenza.
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This enthusiasm was as contagious as the flu: Zachary, Southcrest and Queensland all asked if their residents could also get their flu shots in-house from our team. With only administrative logistics to take care of we were ready and eager to protect Hammer residents from this year’s strain of influenza!

Solving the Problem
Melissa: I was very excited when Adley approached me about his fraternity doing a service project with Zealand.  We support individuals here who are absolutely fine with shots, a couple who are nervous about shots, and some who struggle with a lot of anxiety about receiving shots.  We want everyone to be healthy and prevent illness, but at the same time, we would like to keep anxiety levels down and support people as best as we can when they are nervous.  The idea that the individuals could be in the familiar and safe setting of their own home seemed like a great plan.  I also liked the idea of students getting an opportunity to get to know the individuals we serve.  I think this will be beneficial for them as future professional pharmacists, as they will have more knowledge and understanding of the people they will be serving.

A Successful Learning Experience
Adley: As we approached October 15th some of my fraternity members and I started to get a little nervous. In pharmacy practice the only people that come to get the flu shot rarely have anxiety associated with the immunization. Strategies for reducing anxiety are not really taught in our curriculum.

In order to prepare, I called in the help of Dr. Anne Philbrick, who is the course director teaching immunization to the Pharmacy, Dental and Nursing School at the University of Minnesota. She hosted a session on strategies to manage needle anxiety and way to deliver vaccines to scared patients. There was role-playing, and overall many of the KE members who joined left feeling even more confident in their immunization abilities. This preparation seemed a bit unnecessary after actually giving the shots. Two Zealand residents seemed excited to get their flu shot and had their arms at the ready as soon as the vaccine cooler entered the room. Others were noticeably more nervous. However, I think being in their apartments surrounded by their possessions truly comforted them and made the experience all the more positive.

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As a vaccinator I found the personal environment much more inviting than a sterile clinical space and certainly more relaxing, for both the Hammer residents and me. A few of the residents were even able to distract themselves watching Gilligan’s Island while getting their shot. After learning about strategies to reduce needle anxiety, I could not think of a more ideal environment to get a vaccine then the patient’s living room. It was truly a privilege to get to visit Zealand, Zachary, and Southcrest residents, take additional time to become friends and administer this year’s flu vaccine. Michelle, Lindsey and I are all hoping to come back again next year to poke our new friends!

An Environment of Trust
Melissa: I thought the service was a great success.  We made new friends when the pharmacist and students came over.  They were relaxed and sociable, putting everyone at ease.  Normally, we travel to clinics or pharmacies for these shots which gives people more time to fret and little chance to get to know the person giving the shot.  This year, trust was easily established in their own home with the looser timeline and comfortable setting.

Although I can talk about many of the folks here, and why this was beneficial, I would like to share two examples.  I have never seen one individual handle getting her flu shot so well.  She was able to introduce her cat to her guests, talk about her family and show pictures, and she accepted the shot with more grace than I had hoped for, all while holding a picture of her family to show them how brave she was being.  Another woman, who traditionally refuses to get a flu shot, seemed completely at ease with our new friends coming into her apartment and she chatted about her interests while expressing no reservations about the shot.  I am grateful to Michelle, Adley and Lindsey for providing a beneficial service for us.


1 Comment

  1. Angela Hickman

    Awesome! Way to go Melissa and Adley!


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