Can telehealth improve your clinic’s workflow?

dvm360dvm360 August 2022
Volume 53
Issue 8
Pages: 56

How veterinary clinics can stay on top of the current deluge of cases

Irina Strelnikova /

Irina Strelnikova /

My colleague’s swamped clinic is struggling to answer phones and triage cases. Their ability to offer same-day appointments is a thing of the past. Sound familiar? It seems like clinic phones have been ringing constantly for the past 2 years, with no end in sight. This overwhelming situation affects the entire team in the following ways:

  • Customer service representatives (CSRs) stuck on the phone, triaging cases they may not have the experience to manage correctly
  • Doctors handling questions from CSRs in between (and during) appointments
  • Technicians being interrupted with questions and answering phones when CSRs are tied up, limiting their ability to efficiently assist the veterinarian

And don’t forget about those we’re trying to help in the first place. Clients are frustrated when they can’t get an answer right away and must wait hours or sometimes days to get a response from a professional. They turn to Google, breeders, friends, family, or the pet shop sales-person for answers. Although these may be useful sources for pet information, they do not necessarily offer our valued clients the best advice when it comes to pet health.

What happens when we can't give clients instant gratification?

What if you can’t see a client the same day they call with a question or perceived emergency? Chances are, they will spend the next hour or more calling other local clinics, trying to find an appointment. They may sit at home and stress about their pet until their appointment 5 days later, which you arranged. Perhaps they will head to the local emergency clinic where wait times are long and where they may be turned away if the condition isn’t life-threatening. Is there an alternative where everyone benefits?

What do clients want when they call a veterinary clinic?

Clients want convenience that’s driven by technology. They prefer options that can be accessed for a reasonable fee from the convenience of their smartphone or other device. Clients choose and remain loyal to veterinary practices that provide these conveniences and excel in speedy response times. They’re also willing to pay more for these types of services.

Consider how popular is for reserving travel accommodations, Amazon is for shopping, and YouTube is for entertainment and information. Unsurprisingly, the veterinary space is following suit. Think about the advancements and changes that have already been developed in the areas of veterinary prescription delivery, one-stop online shops for pet supplies, and home diagnostic offerings.

Veterinary telehealth may be the missing piece in this puzzle. With ongoing staffing struggles and increasing wait times for patients, brick-and-mortar hospitals may see their clients look for virtual veterinary advice on their own. Why not refer them to a preferred telehealth provider that will be a teammate in their continuity of care? They will keep your clients happy and your patients healthy.

What happens when you refer a client to a telehealth provider?

Four fantastic things happen when you team up with a veterinary telehealth provider:

  • You can offer a same-day (and often a same-hour) appointment with the telehealth service of your choice.
  • The client does not become upset when they can’t get a same-day appointment and is more willing to accept your next available opening.
  • The patient receives the best possible care, with no assistance from Google prior to their appointment.
  • Your practice keeps the client and patient instead of losing them to other clinics.

Here’s how it works

Many of the health concerns in client calls may be evaluated via telehealth: skin conditions, gastrointestinal issues, ear infections, injuries, etc.

Let’s look at one scenario:

A long-time client calls your clinic, concerned about their 2-year-old Labrador retriever’s itchy skin. Your CSR notes that the next available appointment is in 5 days. The client expresses concern for the dog’s comfort and wants to know what can be done in the meantime to keep the pup happy. They book the next available appointment with your practice, and in the meantime, the client receives a link to connect with your preferred telehealth provider. The CSR explains that the online vet can evaluate the dog and offer safe home care recommendations to use while they wait for their appointment with you. The client is comforted by this information and your willingness to provide immediate care for their beloved pet.

The owner connects with an online vet as recommended. This vet evaluates the dog’s skin, ensures the dog’s condition isn’t emergent, and gives the owner practical and safe advice to keep the dog comfortable at home and prevent worsening of the condition. This includes sending them to your practice to purchase shampoo, flea prevention medication, and an e-collar. The owner also learns about possible causes of the itchy skin and common diagnostics that may be given during the dog’s upcoming appointment. The client and your clinic receive the pet’s medical record from the telehealth visit via email, ensuring everyone is on the same page when the dog comes in for the appointment 5 days later.

In this scenario, the CSR was able to keep the phone call under 2 minutes, without giving inappropriate medical advice. No call back was necessary from a doctor or technician. Most importantly, the dog was well cared for, and the client was thrilled with the personalized attention. They were well prepared for their appointment, allowing you to give a diagnosis and treatment plan efficiently and successfully.

The benefits of telehealth

The bustling summer season is the perfect time to relieve some of your staff’s stress while still providing exceptional and accessible care for your clients and patients. Teaming with a telehealth provider can streamline your hospital’s workflow and make everyone less overwhelmed. Your clients will be pleased by the option to speak to an experienced veterinarian whenever they call, and they’ll be well equipped to make educated decisions about their pet’s health care when they come in for their appointment.

Sheena Haney, DVM is a 2010 graduate of Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. She has extensive experience in small animal general practice and emergency care. As a strong advocate for patient care and client communication, she has found a home working full-time as an administrative veterinarian for FirstVet. When not online, she enjoys reading, writing, and finding new ways to wear out her 2 young children and a 3-legged border collie.

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