COVID-19 keepers: Practice design changes that should stay

The pandemic brought abrupt change to the practice of veterinary medicine. Here’s why and how these adaptations can actually advance the future of your veterinary practice.

To say the past year has resulted in major changes in veterinary operations would be a dramatic understatement. Practices have evolved and grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there were likely some growing pains, some changes will also serve veterinary practices well into a more normal future.

Calm lobbies

Imagine a nearly empty lobby with no scared cats meowing or barking dogs at your reception desk. You’ve learned that people can wait in their cars or outside until you and the exam rooms are ready. Consider adapting the restaurant approach of texting diners when their table is ready and text clients when their exam room is open. Creating more opportunities to keep your lobby calm and stress low will help improve your staff and client interactions. Less crowded lobbies allow for greater species separation too. Whether you are renovating or expanding your practice, look for ways to include exam rooms with outside entrances so clients and patients can enter and exit directly to and from the parking lot or covered, outdoor waiting areas.

Curbside services

Another way to keep your lobbies calm and improve your customer experience is to expand curbside services. Think about minimizing reasons for people to leave their cars, and then consider reducing reasons to enter the lobby. Can you meet people at their vehicles for pharmacy pickup? There may be an opportunity to install a slider window like drive-through restaurants or human pharmacies at your facility, which would make handoffs even easier. Surgery drop-offs don’t always need to involve clients bringing their animals in the front door; it might work better if they meet you at the back of the building if that’s closer to preop and postop holding. Basic oral medications could be given to patients outside. No one enjoys transporting feces through lobbies, so look at outside handoffs for fecal samples. Implementing more curbside or drive-through services will enable you to keep your lobby and public spaces peaceful and less stressful for the pets who do spend time there.

Telemedicine

Both human and animal medical fields have grown their telemedicine services over the past year. Although many veterinary services are best provided in person with the animal appearing in front of your team, there are a few areas that can be kept virtual such as:

  • mobility issues
  • skin conditions
  • and minor wound

Incorporating telemedicine provides the ability to share and potentially downsize offices and charting spaces. Although this may not always be popular, it can be a great strategy if you’re rapidly outgrowing your space. Additionally, virtual consultations can be a good first pass when dealing with fearful or overstimulated animals, especially if they dislike car rides.

Fastidious hygiene

It appears the whole world has recently learned how to properly wash their hands. Let’s keep up the handwashing. Don’t ditch your sinks so you can collectively continue to have better hygiene and minimize fomite transmission. If you plan to replace plumbing fixtures, go touchless wherever possible to avoid turning faucets on and off with dirty hands. Soap and paper towel dispensers are also more sanitary when they are touchless. Consider retrofits for doors like foot-operated restroom doors, so people don’t have to touch dirty handles just after washing their hands. You can also retrofit wireless push buttons and automatic openers on doors at key locations in your facility.

Good airflow

Veterinary hospital design has focused on air quality in animal-occupied spaces, ensuring that medical spaces are pressurized properly and that odors in animal zones are properly managed. Over the past year, the world has also learned how important good airflow can be in human spaces too. Indoor-outdoor spaces can be a great asset in many areas. Exam rooms connected to the outdoors can also be more psychologically comfortable for your staff and clients—especially if you open windows and bring in fresh air.

Try not to neglect your staff spaces either. Connecting break rooms to the outside is beneficial for many reasons. Humans thrive in spaces with natural light, so even if your treatment areas are inside and lack windows, providing break rooms with outdoor access will benefit your team. It’s even better if you can open your break space windows or install sliding doors or a garage door.

Over the past year, everyone has faced incredible challenges and adapted in innumerable ways. Although there are many things we would all like to put behind us, it’s important to reflect on the changes that improved operations and preserve the innovations that worked well so you can continue to grow your veterinary practice.

Sarah is a principal with Animal Arts Design Studios, an architecture firm dedicated to designing spaces for the care of animals. In her years with the firm, she has worked on dozens of projects.