Confronting COVID-19: Lessons from Veterinary Practices

Confronting-COVID-19

Learn how other veterinary practices have mitigated the challenges of working during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The pandemic of COVID-19 is changing rapidly on a daily basis, and in response, the team at Vetstoria is constantly thinking of ways to help veterinary practices through this difficult period.

Thanks to our great customers and the feedback we’ve received over the last few weeks, we are in a privileged position to share some tried-and-tested methods to handle the challenges that COVID-19 poses to our community.

We will run a series of articles on this topic as we continue to receive feedback from our customer success team, who have been working tirelessly with our customers to come up with original and creative solutions to make practice life easier during this time.

Coronavirus is not going away for at least a few months, but everything will eventually return to normal, so let’s stay resilient and carry on!

First Things First - Display a Warning

One of the easiest things you can do to mitigate risk and show your clients that you’re taking your teams’ and their health seriously is to display some form of a warning message.

This could be through a pop-up banner on your website, a message on your phone answering machine, or your Facebook cover photo. It should be consistent in displaying vital information, such as instructions for those showing symptoms or ways in which they can engage with you. The following is an example of a message you could use:

“Do not make an appointment to come in if you or anyone in your household has a persistent cough or a temperature. Follow the government’s official advice regarding your health. If you are in self-isolation, video consultations or scheduled “call backs” are available to book online.”

Policy 1: Self-Isolation

There is a possibility that at some point, members of your team or clients may display symptoms and have to self-isolate. You may fear the following scenarios, but they are completely manageable.

Scenario 1: You have to close your practice in its physical form

First things first. A closed practice doesn’t have to mean a closed business!

If a member of your practice team tests positive, your entire team may have to self-isolate, meaning you may need to temporarily close your practice doors. However, this doesn’t mean you need to stop helping your loyal clients and halt your practice’s income immediately.

The goal is to stay visible to your clients, even if your practice is closed, and offer help to them however you can, whether that is over the phone or video.

If you do decide to offer a remote service to your clients, you should notify them in the clearest ways possible. Honesty and transparency are important at a time of confusion and anxiety.

1. Telephone system

  • State clearly that the practice will be closed until the date that staff return from self-isolation.
  • If you decide to offer a remote service (such as telephone or video consultations), instruct your clients on how they can access this, whether that is booking a video consultation or call-back online since your receptionist wouldn’t be able to take phone calls.

2. Social media

  • Consider changing your cover photos on social media to make the announcement of your practice closure (and any other announcements of changes to your service) as prominent as possible.
  • Post an announcement with the essential information (closure reason, date of return and ways in which clients can consult with your veterinarians).
  • Provide a link for clients to access your phone or video consultation platform (or even better, allow them to book an appointment to have remote consultation in advance).

Some practices using Vetstoria are displaying available real-time phone or video consultation slots to their clients and syncing booked appointments back into their practice management software calendars.

If you’re an existing customer and want to achieve the same, contact support who will be able to help. If you’re not, book a demo with one of our product specialists to learn how Vetstoria can help.

3. Email

  • Whether it is through your practice management software or email provider, email is a great means of getting a message across to your clients quickly. Send out an email announcing your practice’s plans and reassure clients that you’re still available to them, just via different channels.
  • Include a link to directly access or book appointments for phone or video consultations online, so clients can still be serviced, and your practice remains operational.

If after the consultation, it is deemed necessary for the pet to be seen in person, direct the pet-owner to a nearby open practice or refer them to an online veterinary directory or Google.

Scenario 2: The pet owner is in self-isolation

Some international governments have advised some vulnerable groups (such as the over 70’s) to self-isolate. We know that this is a generation of pet-lovers, and they are going to rely on them during lonely times. With that said, it is essential to be open to offering them any advice or support regarding their animals’ welfare, even if it is over the phone or video. It can really make a difference.

For all pet-owners in self-isolation, they will be spending more time with their furry loved-ones more than ever. Therefore, they may be more receptive to the health of their pets during this time and actually be more inclined to engage with a veterinarian.

Here’s what you can do to help those clients who are self-isolating:

1. Phone answering machine messages

Include a message that’s addressed to the pet-owners who may be in self-isolation on your telephone answering machine. If you assume that the call may not be picked up due to the phone ringing off the hooks or reduced staff, direct them to your website where they can book a video consultation online.

2. Offer 'call-backs'

Alternatively, you can direct clients to book a call back on your website. Your booking process should be set up in such a way that allocates a shorter duration so your team can actually get to the phone at that particular time. This will remove the uncertainty of the pet owner not knowing if they would ever get to speak to a real human.

3. Communicate remote services on digital channels

Do the same for social media and website homepage. Inform clients about any remote services (such as video consultations) that you’re offering.

Benefits of Video Consultations:

  • They reduce the chance of transmission of COVID-19
  • They help you retain your revenue stream even if meeting in person isn’t possible due to self-isolation
  • They are often shorter and can be more efficient
  • They allow you to continue to be there for your clients
  • They’re easy to set up

Policy 2: Social Distancing

Social distancing policies set up by many governments will inevitably lead to fewer visitors coming through your practice doors as well as the potential for some of your team members choosing to avoid coming in.

With that said, you’ll need to streamline and modify the way you offer services to overcome challenges. Thankfully, there are some proven ways that our clients have fed back to us that have worked for them, and we’re keen to share them to help more practices across the industry navigate this period.

1. Reducing or canceling routine procedures

Your practice will need to decide internally what appointment types to prioritize. If vaccinations and regular checkups can be reduced to make room for more urgent appointments that should be considered.

We’ve seen some of our customers taking more control of their appointments by using Vetstoria’s powerful rules to set limits. For example:

  • Excluding certain times of the day
  • Limiting or increasing the duration of appointments
  • Only offering a certain number of appointments per day
  • Removing routine appointments altogether for a set period of time, while enabling “urgent appointments” that require medical attention

2. Add a ‘buffer’ period in-between appointments

Your practice may find it useful to have an extra five or ten minutes to clean and reset between every appointment. Not only does this ensure better hygiene and less likelihood of transmitting infections, but it also puts clients and colleagues at ease.

If you’re using a platform to manage your bookings, you can achieve this buffer between appointments by simply increasing the duration of every appointment by 10-minutes.

3. Off-site consultations & waiting

Some veterinarians are conducting consultations off-site (whether that is in the pet-owners home or a car park outside the practice) to minimize risk of transition between pet-owners.

Alternatively, instead of having people cluster in the waiting room, some practices are intstructing clients to wait outside the practice until they are ready to be seen.

To accommodate for the extra time these measures may require, increase the duration of the appointment and add “Consultation Off-Site” as an appointment type on your online booking platform. You could also suggest that pet-owners send a text message to notify your team of their arrival and help identify the car they’re in.

4. Stagger food/medicine pick-ups

When pet-owners queue up at the pharmacy to pick up meds or food, the chance of COVID-19 transmitting is increased massively. The general guide is for people not to be within 4 meters of each other and not for longer than 10 mins.

Set up a new appointment type on your online booking platform “Medicine Pickup” which will give pet-owners an allocation for a time. This way, the vet tech or receptionist will have time to prepare while decreasing the possibility of COVID-19 transmitting.

You may want to display a message such as “Medicine pick up only available to pets that have been seen at the practice within the last 3 months.”

5. Direct phone queries online

It sounds difficult to imagine, but practices we’ve spoken to have taken this measure and it’s proving to be working.

If you are understaffed, it’s really important that you don’t inundate the people who are busy working on urgent matters with additional workload.

Direct all phone traffic to your website, where you can display messages that answer FAQ’s and guide those who want to book appointments to do it online. This will save precious time for your team and offer your clients the best possible experience.

6. Offering home delivery of food/medicine

We’ve spoken to some practices that are offering home delivery of prescription diets and medications to clients that are unable to attend the practice in the event of needing to self-isolate or the practice being closed.

7. Taking card payments instead of cash

To mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, limiting the exchange of cash has been an effective measure used by practices. It also speeds up the payment process for both parties, alleviating stress for overworked teams.

Final words

COVID-19 will throw up challenges to our industry, as well as others. It’s up to us to support one another and remain focused on the shared goal that we have: delivering the best possible care to animals and service to their owners.

At Vetstoria, our team is working tirelessly to continue to bring the latest advice and ideas to help you get over this challenging period, so stay tuned for more.

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