Three things to do for a better tomorrow

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With the increase in patients and veterinary visits, here are ways clinics can be more efficient

DmitryStock/stock.adobe.com

DmitryStock/stock.adobe.com

It’s no secret; there’s a perfect storm raining down on veterinary medicine. Coinciding with a shortage of veterinarians, there are more pet parents than ever before, with the number skyrocketing during the pandemic.1-4 These adoring pet parents are more impassioned and impatient than ever. The profession has all sorts of well-thought-out plans that may begin to offer solutions by 2030.2 However, what about right now?

Before I offer 3 ideas that will support practices as early as tomorrow, let me suggest that if nothing is done, the following 7 repercussions may result:

  • More companion animals as pet parent numbers continue to rise
  • Fewer veterinarians and technicians (the latter of whom continue to be underused) to care for these animals
  • Millennial and Gen-Z pet owners continuing to want answers as soon as possible
  • A more intense human-animal bond, with pet owners considering pets to be their children
  • Mixed messaging as veterinarians communicate to clients the importance of regular checkups even as patient volume makes it difficult or impossible to do so
  • Pet parents developing animosity and even anger toward the profession because of lack of available appointments and follow-up care
  • Professionals feeling overworked, underappreciated, and underpaid (especially technicians)

You may be accomplishing a few of the following 3 ideas, but only a few veterinarians are doing them all. I should also disclose that all 3 points are not for every practice, so talk to your team to see which ideas work best for your clinic.

Acceptance of virtual care

Virtual care should be handled within the clinic and hosted by a licensed, certified, or registered technician or nurse regarding behavior, follow-up to pain recommendations, or follow-up to surgery or cancer treatment. This consultation is not controversial, but few practices use it often if at all.

Many clients, particularly millennial and Gen-Z clients, prefer this type of communication, as do those who may live far from clinics, particularly those in rural areas. There’s no doubt that pets benefit, but so does the practice. Virtual care is a time-saver, income producer, and better way to employ undervalued technicians and nurses.

What about clients without the veterinarian-client-patient relationship? I would argue that some care is better than no care, advice from nonprofessional sources, or online recommendations. Telehealth veterinary professionals know where to begin and end in their recommendations. To rule out the possibility of virtual care, which many clients prefer, is to refuse change as the world changes. There’s no evidence in human health or elsewhere that telehealth lessens routine visits or fractures a bond with the regular practitioner. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Additionally, many practices are making matters worse for already overburdened pet emergency departments, with some closing at 8 PM or requiring arduous 8-hour waits.

Texting and phone calls

Not only do my dentist and doctor use texting to confirm appointments, but restaurants and my barber do as well. How can the veterinary profession not be on board? We’re talking about fewer cancellations without notice, and with proper notice, these open spaces can be filled. But texting can go beyond that. Imagine clients receiving an image of their smiling dog following a dental procedure with the message that “Max is ready for pickup after 2 more hours.” Not only does this system, used by platforms like Weave, allow you to use a cute image, but there’s no time wasted with phone tag, and it’s less likely the message won’t be received.

According to results from a pulse survey from Weave,5 2 in 5 Gen Zers believe their veterinarian is “outdated.” The survey results suggest this age group wants to see similar technology used routinely by human medicine, such as digital portals to communicate with doctors, schedule appointments, and receive quick tips. This generation of pet owners also wants to see updated payment methods for Apple Pay, etc, allowing them to pay easier.

Although texting saves time for most clients, not all clients prefer it, and it cannot handle everything. In some phone systems, patient information instantly pops up on the screen, saving time and personalizing the call. You’ll know instantly that Fluffy’s birthday is approaching or that Max is due for the canine influenza and leptospirosis vaccines.

Wait in car

With this method, client turnover time is faster, and you can avoid fighting pets in the waiting room or arguments with one client in front of another. If it’s a vaccine-only appointment, think about vaccinating in the parking lot. Of course, this can’t be accomplished in Manhattan where there are no parking lots or in Minnesota in February. However, meeting clients where they are might be a lesson from the pandemic that sticks.

References

  1. Bain B, Hansen C, Ouedraogo F, Salois M. 2019 economic state of the veterinary profession. American Veterinary Medical Association. March 6, 2023. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/AVMA-2019-Economic-State-of-the-Veterinary-Profession-Report-now-available
  2. Bain B, Hansen C, Ouedraogo F, Salois M. 2020 economic state of the veterinary profession. American Veterinary Medical Association. March 6, 2023. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/avmas-latest-economic-report-highlights-growth-opportunities-veterinary
  3. Pet ownership statistics. Spots.com. January 30, 2021. Accessed February 6, 2023. https://spots.com/pet-ownership-statistics/
  4. Tilford A. Survey: 78% of pet owners acquired pets during pandemic. Forbes. April 10, 2022. Accessed February 9, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/pet-insurance/survey-78-pet-owners-acquired-pets-during-pandemic/
  5. Dale S. Survey: Gen Z, millennials want more modern, easy interactions with their vet. Weave. February 9, 2023. https://tinyurl.com/ycy3uvfe
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