Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of veterinarians incorporating telemedicine to provide care to their existing patients in some form was on a slow rise, though still behind the adoption seen in human health care. What was once “nice-to-have” is slowly becoming a veterinary practice differentiator, particularly with the uptick in pet adoptions thanks to sheltering-in-place orders.
The benefits are numerous. Remote pet consultations:
- Keep existing pet owners engaged and supported via live chat and video calls (i.e. real-time communications), particularly clients with increased risk of severe illness from COVID.
- Facilitate nonemergency inquiries when the clinic has limited bandwidth, during offline hours.
- Speed up the check-in process through digital forms that can be sent and filled out before the patient comes into the clinic.
- Send automated wellness and appointment reminders via email and SMS.
- Allow payment to be collected quickly and easily.
And there still is a long way to go. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), “76 percent of hospitals in the U.S. connect with patients and consulting practitioners through video and other technologies. But veterinary medicine is woefully behind, with a fragmented solution of patient portals and records transfer utilities.” While COVID has clearly elevated the argument for the need of telemedicine more than ever in veterinary practices, there are other ways technology can forever change the space beyond this pandemic, and help small practices drive profitability.
Lost revenue, bad medicine
The front desk is regularly overlooked in the veterinary world. Many smaller practices have their technicians answer phones, underinvesting in their administrative functions as it can be cost-prohibitive or viewed as a cost center, rather than a profit center. Underinvestment on this important administrative function, however, can lead to missed opportunities to provide better routine and preventive care. The pandemic has only added to the stress of answering phones, given the influx of clients who are home with sick pets afraid to bring them into a clinic and customers who call when they arrive as part of curbside protocols.
Let’s flip the perspective of the cost center and make it not only a revenue generator, but a key tool to improving care and engagement with pet parents. Enter the “virtual” front desk, which is software to automate mundane tasks such as making appointments for customers as well as mechanizing callbacks and billing reminders, sometimes in the form of emails, text messages, and push notifications. This more intuitive customer experience can help improve efficiency, let team members spend less time on the phone, and decrease no-shows via reminders and confirmations. Extending this in the form of a mobile app experience or directly via the web, one can then slowly stack additional pet-oriented services and products (e.g. online pharmacy, food plans, grooming). A virtual front desk can provide much-needed relief for receptionists, offering an on-demand, mobile, and secure platform to deliver customer service. These systems can also help maintain that critical human touchpoint available to your clients (and their pets), while achieving the initial goal of reducing costs and driving incremental revenues for the clinic.
Impact on the bottom line
Multiple wellness visits per year typically translate to incremental services and revenues. For example, consider a veterinary practice that has 2,000 patients, with the average number of veterinary visits per year at 2.5 (bit.ly/36KCPCl). These practices would really move the needle if they were able to get all their clients in at least once per quarter, with revenues being increased 1.5 times.
When delivering a highly intuitive experience with detailed booking options and automated appointment reminders, a virtual concierge for veterinary clinics can create a seamless experience centered on a pet’s well-being. These platforms can integrate directly with your existing practice information management system to simplify after-hours care and create ongoing engagement with clients, unlocking productivity across the entire pet journey, which keeps clients coming back and continually opening up new revenues.
Now more than ever, people are glued to their smartphones. A reminder and confirmation system that sends clients emails, text messages, and push notifications can keep them engaged, allowing veterinarians to scale their services. This channel of communication is critical, particularly with younger audiences, as seven in 10 millennials own a pet, and a majority of these owners view them as their “fur baby.” This is a great opportunity to sell other services your practice offers, including grooming, boarding, training classes, dental care, weight management, and obedience classes.
The expansive use of smartphones also opens the door to auto-payment technology. Clients who are in a hurry can skip the line to pay on their way out, seamlessly transitioning into the rest of their day. This tool gives pet owners options, as the way people like to pay is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Automatic payment options are increasingly important to consider, particularly during the pandemic, as clinics look to reduce the spread of person-to-person contact to make in-person visits as safe as possible for both veterinary employees and pet owners.
Trends moving forward
The virtual front desk is simply the next iteration in leveraging technology in the veterinary space. In the future, we expect to see much more connected wellness-driven pet health, beyond simply using a mobile app patient portal. For example, if clients have a pet scale at home, your practice can automatically be notified when your patient loses or gains too much weight in too short a period. Integrating a virtual front desk is a great first step to implement in your practice to improve customer service, create efficiency, and generate revenue.
Rafael Solis is cofounder and chief operations officer of Braidio, a maker of productivity automation platforms. He brings 20 years of experience in strategic marketing, product and digital media, including marketing roles at Edmunds.com and Walt Disney. Solis holds a BA in economics from Portland State University and an MBA from Pepperdine University.