Four time-savers for curbside care

Despite COVID’s inconveniences, it has forced veterinary teams to rethink workflow and embrace technology

Clear instructions help pet owners know what to do when arriving. Photos courtesy Lake Road Animal Hospital
Clear instructions help pet owners know what to do when arriving.
Photos courtesy Lake Road Animal Hospital

This actually happened: I waited in my car while my two cats had check-ups and blood work. My car battery died after sitting in the parking lot for two hours with the heater running because it was freezing outside. My curbside experience could have been better. Yours can, too.

Curbside care has added extra steps that stretch 20- to 30-minute appointments into 45 to 60 minutes. Many teams feel like they’re running around all day sweating behind masks. How can your team be more efficient? Here are my top four time-savers:

1) Get a texting service or an app with messaging

A veterinarian will see 16 patients per day for 30-minute appointments during an eight-hour workday. A typical healthcare call takes eight minutes.1 If clients call you to announce their arrivals for curbside care, 16 calls total two hours, eight minutes of talk time. At a three-doctor practice, talk time escalates to six hours, 24 minutes spread among the client care team.

Post signs with instructions to text rather than call you: “Curbside appointment? Text this: ARRIVED, your name, your pet’s name, parking spot #.” If clients will need to download an app for text and video chat, include a QR code on signs. Clients will scan the QR with their smartphones and download and install the app upon arrival.

Create templates for common replies so you’re not re-typing instructions all day. Text this: “Welcome to our hospital’s curbside check-in. To prepare for your appointment, please connect to our Wi-Fi. The network name is <your network> and password is <your password>. A patient concierge will get your pet from your car. A doctor will video chat/call you shortly to get your pet’s history and perform the exam. Please remain in the same parking spot for the duration of your appointment so our medical team may quickly reach you.”

This last instruction is critical. Many teams get frustrated when clients leave during curbside care to run errands, and then don’t answer their phones.

Time savings: Two hours, eight minutes of client service representative (CSR) phone time per number of doctors scheduled

2) Use online history forms

Pet owners are used to being in the exam room with their pet. Now that they may be unable to accompany their animals inside the clinic, communicating with them quickly and thoroughly might help alleviate some concerns.
Pet owners are used to being in the exam room with their pet. Now that they may be unable to accompany their animals inside the clinic, communicating with them quickly and thoroughly might help alleviate some concerns.

When clients schedule appointments at Lake Road Animal Hospital in Horseheads, N.Y., CSRs confirm clients’ preferred communication of text or email. Once booked, clients immediately get texts or emails with a link to a curbside form based on the reason for visit. The appointment confirmation asks clients to complete and return forms 24 hours before scheduled appointments.

The team uses online forms for new clients, new puppy or kitten, medical concerns, check-ups, progress exams, nurse appointments, and anesthesia/surgical consent. Further, the hospital’s website provider designed its fillable forms with a ‘submit’ button that delivers completed forms to the practice’s general email inbox. CSRs simply copy and paste forms into electronic medical records.

Online forms have replaced 10-minute histories that nurses once took. Doctors review forms before appointments and prepare follow-up questions for patient handlers to ask clients when they retrieve pets from cars. “This speeds the process and lets the doctor zero in on concerns as soon as the pet is in the exam room,” explains practice manager, Carrie Bowgren.

If forms are not returned, CSRs reach out two days before and re-send links, explaining appointments will be cancelled without advanced receipt of completed forms. This protocol helped the hospital reduce no-shows from a high of 27 per cent in July 2020 to nine per cent in January 2021. Bowgren says requiring completed forms was a more client-friendly approach than collecting deposits to secure appointments. “Pre-payment from a new client reinforces the idea veterinarians are just in it for the money,” she says. “If a client pays $25 and doesn’t show, we’re out $175 as our average doctor transaction is $200.”

Time savings: Two hours, 40 minutes of nurse phone time (average of 10 minutes per nurse, times 16 appointments per doctor) 

3) Go digital with treatment plans and consents

Create templates in your practice-management software for common procedures. For example, use a Grade 2 dental procedure template and add the anticipated number of extractions. Templates will save time and reduce missed charges.

After the doctor explains his or her diagnosis and answers the client’s questions, say, “We will email you the treatment plan and anesthetic consent now for your pet’s dental procedure. Please check your email at <client email>. You may digitally sign these forms and reply to our email.”

Ask your software provider about digital signature capture tools or use services such as DocuSign, HelloSign, or AdobeSign.

Time savings: One hour of CSR phone time per veterinarian (average of 10 minutes for six recommended procedures per doctor per day)

4) Get an app with video chat and telemedicine capabilities

When doctors perform physical exams, they check 12 body systems, which can take 10 minutes. Before COVID, clients saw and heard everything in exam rooms. During curbside care, the doctor performs the exam, calls the client to regurgitate findings, and answers questions. This can add another 10 minutes, doubling the doctor’s time.

Psychologists’ research shows 55 per cent of communication is body language.2 Video chat lets you show empathy and better engage clients, which is especially important when clients have sick pets.

Using video chat lets clients see, hear, and understand the exam in real time. You will erase the 10-minute duplicate call to explain findings. Bonus: Higher client compliance and revenue.

Time savings: Two hours, 40 minutes of phone time per veterinarian per day (10 minutes times 16 appointments)

Despite COVID’s inconveniences, it has forced veterinary teams to rethink workflow and embrace technology. Like curbside grocery and restaurant pickup, veterinary curbside care will continue. Even when you welcome clients back inside, some may prefer curbside care. A client undergoing cancer treatment or who cares for a high-risk elderly parent will want the safety and convenience of curbside care. Make sure the client experience is as amazing outside as it is inside your facility.

Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for 21 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians. She teaches teams to become confident communicators, so more pet owners say yes to medical care. Wendy shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly live CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. Her passion is to help practices like yours thrive and grow through effective communication skills. You may reach her at wmyers@csvets.com or www.csvets.com.

References

1 Insight Driven Health: Why First Impressions Matter, Accenture. May 2013. Available at: http://www.accenture.com/us-en/~/media/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Industries_11/Accenture-Why-First-Impressions-Matter-Healthcare-Providers-Scheduling.pdf. Accessed Feb. 5, 2021.

2 Psychologist Albert Mehrabian.kaaj.com/psych/index.html. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.

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