There is no use bemoaning the tough year that we have all just endured. Why not applaud our hospital teams’ creativity and fortitude as they implemented new ways to deliver excellent medical care and client service?
It seems that the old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention,” is in overdrive in veterinary hospitals around the world. Of course, there have been hiccups and disappointments along the way. And there were “ways” that wouldn’t work for one practice that another one found worked for them. But for all those attempts to do something new and different, the final success was sometimes a surprise and in some cases may be considered standard procedure moving forward.
It was necessary to close access to lobbies and prevent close contact among veterinary healthcare team members and clients; however, it was also necessary to deliver medical care to pets—after all, diseases and emergencies do not take a vacation, even during a pandemic. Kudos to all those team members who braved the weather, dealt with frustrated clients and handled stressed-out pets to provide care.
At White Bear Animal Hospital in Minnesota, curbside services and prescription pick-up quickly became the norm, according to hospital owner, Dr. Stuart Dalton. Those services were so well received by the clients that Dr. Dalton foresees continuing aspects of curbside services because the clients appreciate the convenience, and the team has been able to deliver curbside services efficiently.
In addition to clients appreciating curbside services, some pets (especially fearful dogs) are also happy with outdoor exam areas which were created by many hospitals. Dr. Kathryn Primm of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Tennessee has decided to continue offering the service under her hospital’s covered area. Dr. Primm, a Fear Free certified professional, has continued using many Fear Free techniques in her “new” exam area. Operating “new” does not mean toss out all the “old.”
Curbside service offerings were not without some difficulties. But again, veterinary teams worked at inventing better ways to get the job done. Going from the reception desk to the vehicle and back again to get client signatures and payments and give vaccine certificates and receipts quickly went digital to save time and avoid dealing with inclement weather. Some teams worked with clients to streamline drop-offs and pick-ups, with some practices having clients going to the front door while others sent a team member directly to the vehicle.
Perhaps the most common difficulty experienced with curbside service was communication. Distracted clients, problems with video chatting and the fact that clients were used to face-to-face communication with the veterinarian created a daily hurdle to overcome. Dr. Emily Robinson, owner of Animal Hospital of East Davie in North Carolina, found that the team had to deal with numerous clients calling back multiple times to ask questions about things communicated at the time of the exam via a phone call and written instructions.
Many practices have created two additional positions. One is to take history over the telephone to help the intake process. The second is a “runner” who helps facilitate the process. Both of these jobs can be filled in with less skilled team members. Their training is straight forward and they can be up and running quickly.
Another change implemented by some practices is splitting the teams into groups to reduce the risk of exposing everyone, should one team member test COVID-positive. The benefit is not having to shut down the entire practice should there be a positive employee, and many people enjoy working three long days and having four days off.
As with any new process, there is the flip side—communication can be difficult when the entire team is not scheduled together. Also, the number of appointments scheduled is reduced due to fewer veterinary personnel, and reduced hours worked can be problematic for individual team members.
Telemedicine is a significant change undertaken by many hospitals. For some, the effort was too tricky during this chaotic time. For others, finding the telehealth service provider that best fit the practice goals was a hurdle worth undertaking. In comparison, others put together components for conducting virtual exams, communications and collecting payments in a truly DIY fashion.
The use of virtual care in veterinary medicine is growing. Dr. Dalton has found telemedicine appointments beneficial, especially for behavioral issues. Others like using it to check in with palliative patients, monitor stable chronic patients, assist with preventive care issues, conduct nutrition consultations, perform incision checks and address some dermatologic concerns. As use grows and expands in the coming months and years, so too will the roles of the entire team in order to play a more prominent role in providing virtual care.
Outside the Practice
Finally, the necessary changes required to deal with the pandemic and continue providing medical care have created unusual business challenges—some ethical, others logistical. Can the business control activities of the team outside of the work environment? Can the business require following specific protocols, such as wearing a face mask any time out in public and refraining from large gatherings, as a requirement for continued employment? Can the business set up in-house child care? What about providing a teaching assistant to help team members’ children during remote or hybrid learning? Drastic times call for drastic measures.
As if 2020 wasn’t drastic enough, the impact of all the necessary and creative changes undertaken by veterinary practices will continue well into the future. As hospital teams navigate the pros and cons of a new way to deliver care, communicate with clients, schedule work shifts and support loved ones at home, a few “pearls” will emerge. Many of these new undertakings will become routine hospital SOPs of the future. The challenge will be identifying what works for the practice team and what does not. We all must try, learn and adjust to deliver the best medical care and exceptional client service. +