Because of the rapid spread of COVID-19, most businesses have taken steps to either shut down temporarily, allow employees to work remotely, or drastically modify their operations to maintain a safe environment.
Regardless of the pandemic, animals still get sick. As such, veterinary practices have adjusted accordingly to provide the best care for pets, while helping to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Maintaining client relationships
First, it helps to remind pet owners that your team deals with diseases every day. As medical professionals, you are experienced in preventing the spread of germs and contagions. Reassure your clients you will continue providing care and will take steps within your clinic to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Pet owners are relying more heavily on online sources for answers, which is why it’s important to make sure your website is up to date with best practices. It should also provide easy access to key information regarding appointments, pet health education, and financing options.
Many veterinary practices are sending regular updates to clients to keep them informed of changes to hours. If you are adapting the way you handle client visits, or if you require clients to take safety measures before entering your practice, you can let them know through email, a phone call, or by updating your website.
“This new normal is really pushing veterinarians to improve articulation and specificity in client communication to account for the new friction in the diagnostic process,” says Aliyah Diamond, a doctoral student at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine who has worked in more than one practice environment. “Some veterinarians are combating this by doing a video call in the appointment room, so the [pet owner] can still be involved in the physical exam process.”
Maintaining business stability
You’ll likely need to change the way you do business to maintain stability. Social distancing has pushed practices to lean more heavily on their own online pharmacy and food delivery. Because the margins are often better on brick-and-mortar sales versus online storefronts, practices need to increase sales volume to make up the difference. Again, your website user experience can now make or break your business stability.
In this new normal, cash reserves are more important than ever. Consider reducing inventory and reviewing inventory management best practices, refinancing loans, and testing new methods to improve workflow efficiency while keeping costs low.
As the focus shifts to revenue and your clients’ digital experience, the pet insurance conversation is more important now than ever before, as insured patients have been shown to increase revenue by an average of $211-plus per dog, per year. Pet insurance can be a powerful ally in boosting pharmacy and services revenues, while alleviating financial pressure from pet owners. Online marketplaces now exist to help educate pet parents on the right plan for them, no matter the provider, so you can get back to treatment and stay an arm’s length away from patient financial advice.
Maintaining the health of your staff
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), transmission of the coronavirus primarily occurs when there is contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. The virus spreads via a secondary route when these fluids land on surfaces and are touched by other people.
Sterilize the surfaces of your practice after seeing each patient and wash your hands regularly, especially if your local government is allowing people to visit other businesses. Have your employees wear protective gear whenever possible. Adopt contactless payment options for Wi-Fi-enabled credit card processing, such as Apple Pay, if possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put forth guidance for workplaces responding to COVID-19, including steps on how to maintain a healthy work environment.
For example, staff members who have symptoms, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath must stay home. Employees who have a sick family member should refrain from going to work, if possible, and they should take precautions at home to keep themselves safe and to avoid carrying the virus to the workplace.
Increased communication between leadership, team staff, doctors, and pet owners is critical in maintaining both mental and physical health, while ensuring your practice continues to operate as smoothly as possible.
Caring for patients in the new normal
Moving forward, the client service team should gather the patient’s medical history, pet health details, and insurance information by phone or through online tools. Having a predefined checklist of questions for different case types maximizes the initial gathering of information and sets your team up for success.
The more fluid the practice’s digital experience practice is—from client education and appointment booking, to the exam process and portable payment options—the more likely you’ll not just survive, but thrive.
Of course, there’s also the matter of finding the right face mask to use every day for the foreseeable future. Should you use disposable masks? Are reusable ones the way to go?
Veterinary practices are classified as “essential businesses,” which allows them to continue caring for patients even if another shelter-in-place order is issued by your state government. As a veterinarian, you are an essential advocate for animal welfare. You play a vital role not only in your client’s lives, but also in the lives of the animals they love—you are the primary resource for medical help in this new normal.
Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. As the immediate past national president of the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA), he developed a passion for improving veterinary business while studying at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Realizing the positive impact pet insurance can provide for the profession, he lends support and advice to companies such as Pawlicy Advisor.