Hitting the reset button: What curbside care can teach us

April 14, 2020

The necessary changes veterinary practices have made to promote social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak are sparking all sorts of ideas about new ways to run a veterinary practice once the crisis is over.

I’ll be honest. As a veterinarian, I am spoiled. Our practice philosophy revolves around teaching clients to respect our boundaries. This is most apparent in the way we schedule appointments. We do not take walk-ins.

Let me say that again, we do not take walk-ins. Our clients know to schedule wellness appointments in advance or call to see if we can work them in for a sick pet. Established clients know they cannot simply walk into our hospital and expect to be seen right away.

This does not mean we turn away sick pets who need our help, of course. Rather, it means we require a heads-up from our clients to ensure we have the capacity and staff available to help their pet. It means we leave the practice on time having helped our patients and feeling like our time is respected.

With the exception of emergency care, very few human healthcare facilities allow walk-ins. With all the different ways to communicate today, there is no reason a pet owner cannot call a veterinary practice before coming in.

This policy is beneficial for the clients as well. They can plan their day knowing we will likely be running on time. For any parent who has kids to pick up from school, or anyone trying to squeeze in a veterinary appointment during their lunch break, this is a big bonus. Many clients with anxious pets appreciate the short wait time and in-and-out nature of their scheduled appointment. We can also anticipate and focus on patients who require more time and attention when we are not being pulled in 20 directions. This allows for better client communication, which equals better compliance with patient care recommendations.

Curbside and beyond

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most veterinary practices have moved to curbside and drop-off appointments only. To manage the workflow, veterinary hospitals are using a host of online tools to schedule appointments and interact with owners waiting in the parking lot. This new normal means most clients have to call to set up an appointment time and prevents owners from being able to come in unannounced with their pets.

If this is a new normal for your practice, you must ask yourself one thing: Is there a way to continue this after curbside service ends?

There are several ways we can transition clients to a more scheduled approach when social distancing is no longer required:

  • Upgrade existing software and utilize online appointment scheduling more.
  • Encourage clients to continue the current protocol of calling ahead.
  • Using positive reinforcement by giving priority to clients who do schedule ahead of time.

Make it a team effort

Granted, there are not many upsides to a pandemic. Perhaps one we can use as veterinarians is the opportunity to change the narrative in our practices and train our clients. Have a realistic discussion with your staff about appointment durations and the benefits of scheduling. Often scheduling will need to be adjusted based on clientele and the ratio of sick appointments versus wellness exams. This is a decision you must all come to as a team. This type of culture change is one that most team members will embrace because it decreases staff stress and better manages client expectations.

Many times, when I propose scheduling appointments and having to approve walk-ins, I am met with all the reasons why it will not work. Perhaps in some practices it won’t. But just think about what it would be like if it did. What if you could get that lunch break you and your staff need to de-stress and maintain focus? What if your days could be less chaotic? What if your clients respected you as a medical professional like they do our human counterparts?

Just think about it. It may be worth a try.