Pivot during the pandemic for success on the other side
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is regional director of operations at the Family Vet Group, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shiver resides in Florida.
A practice manager reflects on the many protocol changes implemented during COVID-19 that will benefit veterinary hospitals, clients and patients well into the future.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinary practices have been forced to change how we serve our clients. While at first these changes may have seemed like a great hindrance to practicing veterinary medicine, the reality is that many of the innovative protocols we devised will continue to benefit our practices, clients and patients long after the pandemic is over.
Many clients have really appreciated the convenience of curbside service. In my practice, we had discussed offering curbside service for a couple years, but just never ripped off the Band-Aid because we were comfortable with the status quo. With no other choice during COVID-19, we realized how successful curbside care could be and will continue to offer this option to our clients for several services:
- Prescription and food pickup
- Grooming and lodging drop-off and pickup
- Medical appointment admits and discharges
- Technician appointments (nail trims, anal gland expression, vaccine booster, etc.)
Patient history collection
We knew during our first week of curbside service that we had to come up with ways to improve efficiency. The demand for appointments far outweighed (and still does) anything we had ever experienced. But our appointments were consistently exceeding their allotted time slots, causing us to fall behind most days. When we analyzed our system, we saw that what was taking up so much time was history taking, especially when the person bringing the pet to the appointment was not the owner.
We quickly realized that obtaining the patient history before the appointment would speed things up immensely. Many types of patient history forms can be sent to clients to fill out electronically well before the appointment, or even while the client is waiting to be seen:
- New client forms
- Treatment plan consent forms
- Health questionnaires (senior pets, annual exams, etc.)
Once clients start coming back to your practice, obtaining as much information as possible prior the appointment will continue to be beneficial. Collecting patient histories in advance can shorten 30-minute appointments to as little as 15 to 20 minutes, and the doctors can review the information before the appointment. With their thoughts already on the case, they pair that with the physical exam and are able to convey treatment options more efficiently.
The “witching hour”—typically the stretch from 4 to 6 p.m. when everyone comes to pick up their pets, prescriptions or food after work—can cause stress even for the most well-run practices. Combine that mayhem with your scheduled appointments, and your client service representatives quickly need a floatie to get through those rough seas.
When we implemented curbside service, we had no choice but to switch gears when it came to processing payments. About a week in, we had two clients dispute a credit card phone authorization and had to jump through hoops to prove we performed the services in question. After a quick chat with our merchant service provider, we started emailing invoices with a link for payment. Sending invoices to clients ahead of time allows them to pay via the link in their email, so when they come to the practice all we have to do is deliver the pet, prescription or food right to the car. Clients love not having to wait, and I cannot express how much it speeds up the checkout process and makes the “witching hour” less chaotic. We should have started this years ago and will continue to do so after the pandemic is over.
Over the past few years, telemedicine has incited panic in some practices and excitement in others. No matter what your opinions of telemedicine were prior to COVID-19, there is no doubt that this service has been beneficial for clients and practices alike during the pandemic. With some clients unable or unwilling to visit the practice and some practices short-staffed due to quarantined team members, telemedicine became a game changer. What’s more, telemedicine consults can be completed in almost half the time of a regular appointment. After the pandemic, we will continue to use telemedicine in our practice for several types of appointments:
- Skin concerns
- Patient rechecks
Manning the eight phones lines in our practice has been a monumental challenge during the pandemic. Fortuitously for us, we onboarded with practice management software provider VitusVet just before the pandemic hit. We encouraged our clients to download the app and use it to reach us with almost instantaneous results:
- Two-way texting
- Picture messaging
- Appointment requests
- Prescription refill requests
- Client access to medical records
Because our phone traffic has lessened dramatically, we can now serve our clients more proficiently.
Looking back—and forward
As I reflect on our practice experiences over the past couple months, I am amazed by our ability to adapt to change. Practices that make pandemic changes part of their ‘new normal’ protocols will be the ones that will thrive once it is over.
Emily Shiver is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.