Aetna Safe Vaccine Storage Project Focuses on Improving Patient Safety at 5,300 Physicians' Offices Nationwide

December 5, 2002

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Adults and children who receive vaccinations at more than 5,300 primary care physicians' (PCPs) offices nationwide may be more likely to receive an effective dose, following a major quality management and patient safety initiative by Aetna. Details of the pilot program that led to this national initiative were published in the November edition of the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine."

To reduce risks associated with improper vaccine storage, Aetna recently completed its Vaccine Safe Storage Project. The project aimed to improve compliance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vaccine storage guidelines and included an initial survey of storage procedures, education materials provided by Aetna, tools to support safe vaccine storage, and a follow-up survey. The project was funded by GlaxoSmithKline.

"The success of immunization programs depends both on the number of people who are vaccinated, and an effective vaccine," said Samuel Warburton, MD, who leads Aetna's Quality Management programs. "People should be able to rely on the quality and the efficacy of vaccines to keep them safe from some very serious illnesses. We believe in the importance of this Vaccine Safe Storage project, as well as other patient safety initiatives, and will continue to support and collaborate with physicians and other health care providers in our networks to minimize avoidable medical errors."

According to the World Health Organization, most live vaccines can survive at room temperature for only short periods of time. Failure to adhere to handling and storage recommendations can reduce or destroy a vaccine's effectiveness, according to articles published in the British Medical Journal and Pediatrics.

"GlaxoSmithKline was pleased to be able to support this initiative since this study dovetails with our own internal efforts to continuously look for new and innovative ways to improve the delivery and efficacy of immunizations given to all infants and children," said Dr. Stuart Sarshik, medical director, national accounts, GlaxoSmithKline.

Following the Vaccine Safe Storage Project, improvement in physician compliance with the CDC's safe storage guidelines ranged from two to 20 percent. For example:

* There was a 10 percent improvement in the PCP office having a

thermometer in the refrigerator to assess and record the temperatures.

* Vaccines stored in the refrigerator door (where temperatures frequently

are less stable) decreased by 13 percent, and vaccines stored in the

freezer door decreased by two percent.

* The use of a temperature log to record and track temperatures daily as

recommended by the CDC increased by 18 percent.

* Temperatures consistently within recommended ranges improved 18 percent

for refrigerators and 13 percent in freezers.

"This improvement is significant because although individual state health departments are responsible for monitoring the quality of vaccine storage within public health clinics, no monitoring system exists in the private sector despite the fact that the private physician office is a major distribution channel for vaccines," Warburton said.

Aetna's national Safe Vaccine Storage Project followed a pilot program in early 2001 which focused on four markets: Detroit, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Details of the pilot, as well as the significance of the results and interventions, were documented by Julie A. Gazmararian, PhD, of Emory University. Gazmararian led the pilot study for the former USQA Health Care Research Center, and authored the manuscript that appeared in November in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This study is an excellent example of how a national managed care organization can effectively address an important patient safety issue. Using an existing system, Aetna was able to provide important information to the provider offices that made a difference in how vaccines were stored," Gazmararian said.

Aetna is one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare and related group benefits, serving approximately 13.9 million medical members, 11.9 million dental members and 11.7 million group insurance customers, as of September 30, 2002. The company has expansive nationwide networks of more than 539,000 health care services providers, including over 327,000 primary care and specialist physicians and 3,300 hospitals.

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and health care companies, is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer.

Source: PRNewswire