Lessons from COVID-19: Be resilient and efficient

Client relationships and practice profits will grow as you embrace new ways to work

After Hurricane Katrina washed away Lakeview Veterinary Hospital in New Orleans, La., Gary Levy, DVM, DABVP, didn’t give up. He began rebuilding his six-doctor practice and helping the community he’s always called home. Hurricane Katrina taught Dr. Levy how to run a business during a crisis. Now his practice is thriving during COVID.

Mark Cousins, DVM, DABVP, of The Cat Practice Veterinary Hospital in New Orleans is a three-time disaster survivor. The first blow came in August 2002 when a business adjacent to his hospital caught fire and spread to eight buildings in the historic garden district. Three years later on the anniversary of the fire, a second catastrophe hit. Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Dr. Cousins lost his home and many clients were displaced. COVID-19 was strike three. A native of New Orleans, Cousins and his hospital manager and wife, Ginja, bounced back all three times. What did these veterinarians do to recover rapidly from COVID’s impact?

Get remote access: Dr. Levy’s team can access the clinic’s practice-management software from their phones, tablets, and home computers using remote access software. Post-COVID, the team will continue to use remote access, whether attending a conference or checking on patients on days off.

Embrace telemedicine: Levy’s millennial associate veterinarians were the first to jump at telemedicine. “They often grab incoming telemedicine requests before I can,” he laughs. About half of cases need to be seen for hands-on exams, and many initial telemedicine consults lead to follow-up in-clinic exams.

Keep appropriate levels of supplies: “When coronavirus struck, we hit the ground faster,” says Ginja Cousins. “I ordered supplies that day.” She anticipated longer delivery times and possible back orders.

Reach out to clients by phone: During and post-COVID, don’t rely solely on email reminders, as health-care emails have a 33 percent open rate.1 Ginja mines the reminder list daily, updating notices and driving future visits. Employees call clients every day about exams and refills, not leaving email reminders to chance. In addition to a current phone number, ensure you have an email and mailing address for every client, Ginja advises. Making personal connections is a client-retention strategy.

Pre-block urgent care slots: Clients will call every morning about sick pets that need to be seen today (it’s as predictable as death and taxes). Cousins says clients are home 24-7 with their pets, so they’re more observant and act faster when something seems amiss. Many practices are seeing 40 percent of appointments as sick patients compared to 20 percent before the pandemic. Let’s say a veterinarian sees 24 patients per day. Based on this 40 percent demand, the doctor will need 10 of 24 appointments as urgent care slots (at least one per hour).

Go digital: Does your hospital have a wall of pocketed folders crammed with dog-eared paper handouts? Take down the clutter and go digital. Convert every handout into a PDF. Create a “Trusted resources” page on your website with links to handouts and expert veterinary sources (i.e. veterinarypartner.com, American Veterinary Medical Association [AVMA], American Animal Hospital Association [AAHA], etc.). Create a folder of electronic handouts on your server so you also may email them. Go digital with these items:

  • Anesthetic consent
  • Client handouts
  • Discharge instructions
  • Emergency authorization treatment form
  • Home care instructions
  • Lab results
  • Medication instructions
  • Paid receipts
  • Treatment plans

Clients of all generations want digital health information from their doctors.2 Millennials have the highest mobile usage of all generations, with 97 percent using mobile devices to consume digital content.3 A survey found 62 percent of senior citizens research health information online.4 Oftentimes, half the family is present for the exam or discharge appointment. Providing information digitally lets the client easily share it with other caregivers. If a client really wants a paper handout, print it on demand.

Implement exam room checkout: When clients are welcomed back inside your practice, reduce the number of employee interactions. Front-desk checkout is an extra step and a further point of contact. Ask your practice-management software provider about integrated payment solutions.

Get mobile payment solutions: For curbside care, many practices took credit card numbers over the phone and manually keyed transactions, which incurs a higher merchant rate. At a four-doctor practice in Indiana, the hospital was paying an extra $1,200 per month for manual transactions. Due to a similar situation, Dr. Levy called his merchant provider and explained his status as an essential business. The company waived the two percent higher transaction fee.

Mobile card readers can be used curbside and in-clinic. Many providers let your practice accept EMV chip card, digital wallet, ACH payments from your client’s bank account to yours, e-commerce, text and email to pay, and gift cards. Check first with your local business bank and practice-management software provider, which may have solutions. You’ll find many mobile and contactless credit card reader suppliers online.

Watch my free one-hour webinar titled, “What COVID-19 taught us that will become everyday efficiencies” (wi.st/2NUweMo) and download the 12-page companion handout at csvets.com/COVID2.

As your clinic enters a reopening phase, look for best practices that will become part of everyday efficiencies, including smarter scheduling practices and integrating more digital communication with clients. Client relationships and practice profits will grow as you embrace new ways to work.

Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has been training veterinary teams for more than 20 years as owner of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colo. She helps health-care teams improve telephone and communication skills that result in getting more pets the medical care they need. Myers shares her expertise through conferences, online courses, and monthly CE credit webinars. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of five books. You may reach her at wmyers@csvets.com or csvets.com.

References

1 Brudner E. Email Open Rates by Industry: See How You Stack Up. Published June 14, 2019. Available at: blog.hubspot.com/sales/average-email-open-rate-benchmark. Accessed July 1, 2020.

2 Gopal S. Rendia. Health care decisions by generation: How do patients differ? Published November 6, 2014. Available at: blog.rendia.com/health-care-decisions-generation-patients-differ/. Accessed July 1, 2020.

3 5 ways to target millennials with your marketing. VitusVet. Published Nov. 1, 2016. Available at: content.vitusvet.com/blog/5-ways-to-target-millennials-with-your-marketing. Accessed July 1, 2020.

4 Wike K. Seniors Want Digital Health Tools. Health It Outcomes. Available at: bit.ly/2PJALlO. Accessed July 1, 2020.

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