Chicago is turning to a private app to help set up COVID-19 vaccine appointments as the city faces scheduling hurdles

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Chicago is turning to a private app to help set up COVID-19 vaccine appointments as the city faces scheduling hurdles
Zocdoc mobile app homepage. Zocdoc.ZocDoc
  • Chicago and health app Zocdoc teamed up to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
  • Zocdoc previously partnered with Mount Sinai in New York City.
  • Chicago is now in phase 1B of its vaccine rollout, but needs more doses to meet demand
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The city of Chicago was searching for a solution for residents struggling to schedule their COVID-19 vaccination appointments and doctors trying to distribute doses.

"Right now you can go check Walgreens, you can go check CVS, you can go check this hospital and this hospital and this hospital, and 17 clicks later there's no vaccine," said Tina Hildreth Anderson, chief of operations for COVID Response for the Chicago Department of Public Health.

So the city partnered up with private digital healthcare company Zocdoc, and starting February 2, eligible Chicagoans can use the app to schedule their vaccine appointments.

"When we started to come into the vaccination campaign, we thought we need to have a way to aggregate appointment availability across providers in a smooth and easy way that will be easy for patients and easy for providers," Anderson told Insider. The city first spoke with Zocdoc on Martin Luther King Day and announced the partnership Tuesday.

At the end of January, Chicago entered into phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, according to the city's department of public health. That means frontline essential workers and Chicagoans 65 and older can receive the vaccine, along with healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff who were elligible in phase 1A.

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Anderson said the city took longer than the suburbs to get through Phase 1A because proportionally it received fewer vaccines per healthcare worker than some of the surrounding areas. Chicago, because it's a larger city, receives a direct allocation of vaccine doses from the federal government.

Anderson said providers were asking for help in getting vaccines to patients. One solution, she said, could have been for the city to create its own vaccination registration system, which providers would have to then adopt and rollout. But the easier solution was to work with an already available system that would be easily integrated at hospitals and elsewhere.

"That is Zocdoc's core business proposition," she said.

Zocdoc is a digital healthcare marketplace where patients can find doctors, book appointments, and attend virtual visits. Last month, it rolled out a free vaccine scheduling service and made it available to public and private health systems across the country.

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Its first partner was Mount Sinai, New York City's largest academic medical system. In the first days of use, the app helped book 100 appointments per minute, maxing out the hospital's available doses.

At the time, Zocdoc Founder and CEO Oliver Kharraz told Insider the new service is the company's "contribution to this public health effort."

Read more: Top vaccine developers are upgrading COVID-19 shots as mutations threaten our progress in curbing the pandemic

State and local governments received little federal guidance or assistance on how to manage the pandemic as it spread across the US. And, since the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were approved in December, cities also have had to manage the vaccine rollout.

But, Anderson said, the pandemic has shown that, "the public and private sector have to work together." Zocdoc, she said, is used to helping patients navigate the healthcare system, so it's a "really good addition" to the vaccine rollout effort.

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Even with the new tool, though, Anderson said the city still faces a problem: It's only receiving 5,700 doses of the vaccine per day, and hundreds of thousands of people are now elligible to receive the shot.

"At this rate, it will take a year and a half," to vaccinate the city, Anderson said.

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