Data Doctors: Tech tips for online COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Q: Can you provide any tips for online vaccine appointment websites? They are so frustrating to use!

The classic supply vs. demand problem, combined with poorly developed vaccine appointment websites, is generating lots of frustration for those attempting to get scheduled for a vaccine.

Being tech-savvy doesn’t necessarily help with the frustration, but approaching the task with a strategy and a few tools may help.

Pre-game preparation

Just like when you’re trying to buy seats for a very popular concert, knowing how the system works ahead of time will help you be more efficient.

Before the next group of appointments become available, go through the process required on the website, so you’ll know what information you’ll need and what to expect.

Some websites may not retain information that you need to type every time. Either use your browser’s “autofill” feature or have the information in a document in order to copy and paste to make it faster and avoid typos.

Reloading or refreshing the page once you get to the “available appointments” screen is a vital task. Make sure you know what to click or which buttons to use on your keyboard.

Windows users can hit the F5 key, but it’s better to bypass the local cache to make sure you’re requesting new information by holding CTRL while hitting F5.

Mac users can use Command+R to force a reload of the page.

You can use auto-refresh utilities such as Super Simple Auto Refresh for Chrome and Microsoft Edge, which will automatically refresh the page at an interval you choose.

If you decide to try one of these utilities, make sure you know how it works and how to tell it to stop so you don’t accidentally refresh when an appointment becomes available.

More is better

If you equate this process with an old-school radio station contest — “caller No. 35 wins XXX”  —you know that you’re going to be competing with a lot of others at the same time.

Your odds of getting through will increase if you are using multiple computers or have friends and family all attempting at the same time.

Though you can try to use your smartphone as another device, I’ve found that many websites aren’t really properly rendering things on the small screen. I’d recommend using as many computers as you can.

If you are comfortable resizing multiple browser windows on a single screen or you have multiple screens set up, you can increase the number of attempts per computer by either using multiple tabs or multiple browsers.

Expand your search

Most people assume that the closest locations are the best to try, but if you’re willing to drive to another county or city with fewer people, those areas may allow you to set an appointment which will increase your options.

Monitor pages for changes

Some sites will allow you to sign up for new appointment alerts or you can use a free utility such as Distill.io that will automatically alert you whenever there’s a change to any webpage that announces new appointment availability.

Beware of scam websites/emails

Scammers are taking full advantage of this situation by creating fake sites and phishing emails. Be on the alert. Any website that asks you to put in your credit card information to “pay” for your vaccine is a big red flag!

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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