Navigating the era of the pandemic in veterinary medicine
This diverse panel of veterinary professionals provided insight into how they adjusted to drastic and novel protocols during the pandemic, including curbside care, and why and how they began to implement telemedicine and other innovative technologies to help their practices operate more efficiently. If you want to learn more about how the pandemic has shaped the veterinary industry and how to help your practice thrive in these unprecedented times, read on!
How has the pandemic affected communication with customers? How has this changed the way you practice medicine?
Tai Ogg, DVM, MPH: So, it was an interesting experience especially with the workload very severely increased at all levels. And it didn’t matter if it was general medicine, emergency medicine or emergency care, everyone saw a pretty significantly increased workload. Communication definitely became even more important, especially for homeowners who weren’t allowed to enter the building. It’s hard when you have to read between the lines to know what’s going on.
Patricia Leff, DMV, MS: We are completely at the edge of the street. And I feel like being able to return dates was also more difficult because there is a lot more back and forth. Initially, we did things over the phone completely. About a month after the start of the pandemic, I had to drive out and have this human interaction because I think we had less communication issues when we could have face to face communication even though we were masked. I think being able to see their body language is really important for sure.
Charles D. McMillan, DMV: I believe that now the over-communication is more important. I think something is lost when you can’t see the client. Since the pandemic, unfortunately, there have been patients that I have seen from their first puppy vaccines to their maturation without ever meeting face to face with their owners. I think that at this time, the confidence is even more fragile. Excessive communication is very important because owners accustomed to accompanying their animals inside are now forced to adapt to return them. Because of this, I find myself communicating too much with them. Sometimes I take pictures to make them feel like they are part of this process.
Stephanie Onken: I know that for our member clinics who did not immediately adapt their communication strategies, they really struggled to meet demand but also to manage their burnout. So there is a lot of self-care that had to happen. All of our member clinics with sidewalks, whether they stayed curbside the entire time was the question. But if they didn’t adapt their communication strategies to not only serve their team but serve their clients, their exhaustion was unbelievable.
Kristina Guldbrand, CVT, BS, ACC: The teams with which I work are obviously very attached to having a good team dynamic. They were like, we have to work on our communication, internally and with clients, and develop new skills that we probably never had before. But what I think they see is that all that hard work they did in the beginning is now paying off. And when we get back to normal, they will indeed have a stronger team and know how to go through difficult times. They will build better bonds and better relationships with their team members because they put the work in early. And people who may not have done this job now realize that communication is something everyone should be involved in. It is never too late to develop these skills.
Brad Marconyak, CVT, CVPM: What I discovered is that not only do they [teams] having to communicate with customers on the phone, but communicating with internal staff has become more difficult with people running around. In the beginning, so many clinics worked shifts because if someone was potentially exposed, they didn’t want to have to shut down the clinic. So they were leading half teams. And ironically, probably 6 months later, many hospitals were talking about how they found out who the real strong members of their team were and how they can really function effectively because they started to communicate better.
What are the workflow barriers that your hospital / team encountered? How did you fight them?
Onken: So the VHA being an association, we had the opportunity to be agile and support our members when they ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to protect themselves and their families, and their teams, and their patients. We reached out and partnered with companies like PawsTime, like Virtuwoof, like PetPro Connect, and really brought these technologies to the clinic and said, “Hey, we did the research, we did the verification, we got you. have a discount. Use it, and here’s how we’ll help you use it. One of the biggest complaints we heard from our members was that they couldn’t answer phone calls. Their phone lines were ringing all the time.
Guldbrand: On the software side, one of the things I like about PIMS software
that we are working with is that we have created a kiosk that people can fill out through an online link, so that people can fill out their admission form from a link they receive via text message on their telephone. And during the pandemic, we really went to great lengths to make sure we gave them so many features, like the universal inbox. So the office can text the client from their patient record, and the client can respond by email if they want, which sort of creates this ease of communication.
Ogg: I have certainly seen practices where maybe they did not really use the staff
to their full potential. But now, because of the sidewalk, if you’re not efficient, you just can’t get through the day. They’ve started to push their staff into certain roles, whether they’re assigned a certain task for the day, or whatever way it works, and it’s nice to see more and more hospitals actually using it. their staff. I think it makes the staff a lot happier, it makes them feel a lot less exhausted.
Marcus Dela Cruz, DMV: So one thing our hospital has done that I’ve found really cool – and we’re seeing more of it – is to use QR codes. So in California there is a law that for every medicine sent home that is oral medicine, you have to ask the client if they want a consultation about it, refuse it or accept it. And if they want a consultation, basically what we’ve done is put the QR code on the bottle we send home so they can scan it. It is directly linked to a Plumb link which contains all of the adverse events listed for this medicine. It’s pretty cool. It’s something I never thought I’d see, but the pandemic really forced us into it. During my first few months, my mentor told me, “You are terrible on the phone. You are flat. It does not go through. Every customer you call thinks their dog is going to die because you are so flat. So this whole transition has really been a game changer for me.
Do you see a bigger conversation of “I wish I had the money and I’m afraid I have to shoot my pet?” “
McMillan: I work for a staffing company as a regular relief vet now. I work in several environments. I didn’t appreciate a slight uptick or change in the dynamics of the euthanasia conversation. Many hospitals I visit have made exceptions and special accommodations for people who feel the need that euthanasia was the best option, such as allowing them in and trying to make them as comfortable as possible. possible. The pandemic has affected many people and many groups of people differently. Fortunately, when customers drop their pets off to see me, there is usually something that can be done for their pet, even if financial limitations don’t allow the gold standard.
Left: Fortunately, we do not see any concern for euthanasia either. We work with clients, make treatment plans, provide care credits, try to break treatment plans if we can do it, they can do it a little here, then a little next week if it’s there. way the owner chooses to do things.
Dela cruz: Our community is an older community, so a lot of people have already retired, so they haven’t been made redundant or lost their jobs. They are on fixed incomes, so we haven’t really seen an increase in euthanasia or the ability to pay for services. But I wasn’t sure if it was special because of our particular community or if it was a bit general, so it’s really interesting to hear.
Onken: We saw a slight increase. Because we are offering cremation, our numbers have fortunately not increased abnormally throughout the pandemic. So this means that our vets did not offer economic or convenience euthanasia. One of my clients is actually a home euthanasia clinic, and she openly on her website – videos, social media, through everything – does not contact her for a convenience euthanasia.
Left: We were able to relocate some patients with owners who thought they could
no longer care for them because people are looking to bring fur babies into their homes. And so we are fortunate to have some rescues in the area we are working with. A few patients registered at our hospital and we were able to find them a home. On the contrary, I think the expenses are actually on the rise in our clinic.
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