How veterinary practices can thrive despite COVID-19
A healthcare financial expert shares strategies for increasing sales and traffic at your practice despite changes brought on by the pandemic.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has required drastic changes in the ways veterinary practices operate, flexibility, and innovation throughout the profession have enabled many practices to thrive despite shutdowns and social distancing mandates. With local economies still in flux, veterinary practices that are struggling to make ends meet should consider the following strategies to encourage client traffic and maintain — or even increase — revenue.
Increase your bandwidth for patient care
Practices should make every effort to accommodate clients at this time. Telehealth, which has gained a serious foothold in veterinary medicine in recent months as a result of the pandemic, offers a unique opportunity to serve clients in high-risk COVID-19 categories, as well as those who may not want to be in close proximity to the practice or simply prefer the convenience of electronic appointments. Due to the limited number of patients allowed in a practice at one time due to physical distancing protocol, practices with telehealth can keep caseloads up by simultaneously serving clients in-person and online.
Another option: Offer "after hours" appointments, which enable you to serve more clients without staffing a full office.
Leverage retail offerings
Veterinary practices generate income through retail product offerings, including parasite preventives, pet food and treats, and pet accessories. If your practice has traditionally limited retail sales to in-person transactions, now is a good time to create (and promote) an online or mobile sales platform or start offering curbside pickup. Monitoring online sales regularly and seeking ways to improve efficiencies will help increase practice revenue well beyond the pandemic.
Enhance the payment experience
Contactless payments can serve as a helpful way to limit face-to-face interaction and provide an efficient and safe payment experience. Consider implementing online and mobile payment options, as well as point-of-sale devices that require only a quick tap or swipe. Many banks can help educate veterinarians about how to implement these payment offerings.
Provide payment flexibility
Pandemic-related job losses mean many clients cannot afford to bring their pets in for treatment, especially non-urgent care. If possible, consider offering payment plans, including membership or subscription programs for clients without pet insurance or those unable to pay a bill in full at the time of service. Other options to accommodate these owners include third-party financing, discounting fees, and wellness programs. Keep in mind that although offering payment plans may enhance collections, it often weakens profit margins, so be sure to balance this client-friendly approach with careful expense control.
While it's crucial to continue to ensure staff safety and client confidence, veterinary practices have weathered COVID-19 better than many other types of private health care practices. Although some owners have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans during the pandemic, in many veterinary practices revenue has actually increased, and practices have retained and sometimes increased their fair market value (FMV). This is largely because of the spike in pet adoptions and the fact that clients who are now home all day with their pets are noticing more health concerns.
By leveraging telemedicine, payment flexibility, contactless payment options, and curbside care, veterinary practices can continue to serve clients effectively while increasing sales and their bottom line. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis will likely have minimal long-term impact on the financial outlook of healthy, well-managed veterinary practices. By embracing digital transformation and innovative strategies to enhance the client experience and improve efficiency, practices can experience accelerated growth in the midst of the pandemic.
Dan Croft heads TD Bank's Healthcare Practice Solutions. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing and growing TD Bank's healthcare practice finance business, which assists dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, physicians, and podiatrists in choosing sound financial solutions for their practices.