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Why A Group Of Doctors Are Using Their Free Time To Call Their Unvaccinated Patients


As President Biden laid out his plan to combat this latest surge of the coronavirus, he asked doctors to help.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Tonight I'm asking each of you to reach out to your unvaccinated patients over the next two weeks and make a personal appeal to them to get the shot.

CHANG: Well before Biden's speech, a group of doctors in Massachusetts had started doing just that.

LAKSHMAN SWAMY: I walked in the room, and I saw that they had these - some other patients' charts open. And I was like, why are you looking at other people? We've got ICU patients here. And they went, oh, we're calling our unvaccinated patients. I was floored.


That's Dr. Lakshman Swamy, critical care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance. His residents are using their downtime to identify which of their primary care patients are unvaccinated. Then they call them to talk about getting the vaccine.

CHANG: Dr. Preston Williams, a first-year internal medicine resident, helped come up with the idea. He says that because some people are foregoing regular doctor visits right now, these calls are even more important.

PRESTON WILLIAMS: We wanted to make those contact points just to check in with people and find out how they were doing and see if they had any other issues going on as well and just to see, like, how's COVID been and then also to have the discussion about the vaccine.

KELLY: Dr. Williams thinks it's important to listen to people's reasons for not wanting the vaccine.

WILLIAMS: One common thing that I've heard from a lot of patients is that they didn't know they could get the vaccine because they had diabetes or asthma or heart failure. And I had the pleasure and opportunity to tell them, no, this is why we think you should get the vaccine because people with a lot of these chronic conditions actually do worse.

KELLY: Dr. Swamy says a lack of good information has been a theme among many of his patients.

SWAMY: We take care of people who are disenfranchised, people who don't have stable housing, people who don't speak English. So in many cases, they don't have such great access to valid information.

CHANG: And the conversations, says Dr. Williams, have been mostly productive.

WILLIAMS: I would say the majority of the patients that I've talked to who were not vaccinated indicated to me on the phone that they now planned to get vaccinated.

CHANG: Dr. Lily Gage, one of the residents making calls, says it comes down to the power of the doctor-patient relationship.

LILY GAGE: I do know, by and large, most of these patients, and I have relationships with them. And so I can be a trusted source, I hope anyway, in this sea of sources that we're all inundated by.

KELLY: In this instance, this group of young doctors are one source their patients can trust and rely on.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST SONG, "TENDER BUTTONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
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