Adapting your practice to COVID-19

Dec 9, 2020

Over the last several months, the move to curbside medicine has helped to ensure the safety of our staff and clients; however, social distancing measures have come at the expense of efficiency and human resources. Following are some ideas, tips, and advice on how to improve your practice management during the pandemic.

1. Fire clients. The top priority for veterinary hospitals is keeping staff safe. This is clearly evident with the move to curbside medicine and vigilant use of personal protective equipment (PPE), but these policies only protect physical health and don’t address the mental health risk. Consider a client code of conduct to protect staff from aggressive or unreasonable clients. If a client raises their voice, uses profane or offensive language, they should be warned to cease the behavior. If it continues, the staff member should excuse themself, leave the area or hang up the phone, and report the problem to their supervisor. If the offending client does not immediately remedy their behavior, they should be informed that they are no longer welcome at the hospital. Firing those clients who are abusive to your team shows staff that you have their backs and goes a long way towards building loyalty 

2. Give your staff access to counselling. Dealing with all the stresses people encounter outside of practice can be challenging at the best of times. Anyone with kids now has a whole new level of stressors with school and daycare requirements, COVID testing, self quarantine, and the household’s income and job security. The CVMA’s ARIVE Employee Assistance Program offers counselling to help with all of life’s challenges. The service is available to employees insured under the CVMA Employee Benefits Plan, with the employee assistance program benefit.

3. Let off some steam. Coping in a socially distanced world is stressful. Before pressure builds to a breaking point, engage staff in a short but fun activity that gives them a chance to relax. They can take a break from the rigors of work and forget the world is ending for a few minutes. Something as simple as a pizza lunch or a socially distanced birthday celebration will not put you too far behind and can help lower the stress meter.

4. Develop a health and safety protocol for curbside medicine during the winter months. Protect staff in their new winter environment by clearing snow and ice from their new curbside workstation. Have snow shovels and salt available alongside a protocol on who is responsible for keeping the area clean.

5. Hire another receptionist. Many practice owners and managers are focusing on hiring veterinarians and certified technicians. Consider hiring another receptionist to free up existing technician and veterinary time. An additional receptionist can reduce the volume of call-backs required by answering the constantly ringing phone, prevent no-shows by confirming scheduled appointments, and help shuttle pets and products to and from client vehicles in the parking lot.

6. Raise your fees. The number of clients has gone up but so has the cost of delivering veterinary medicine. The economy has not changed (yet) for many clients and several veterinarians have reported clients are less price sensitive because they have additional savings from not going on vacation, not going to restaurants, and working from home. Most clients recognize the extra effort put in by veterinarians and staff with social distancing and curbside service and would not balk at a fee increase. One big advantage to increasing fees now is the timing; this insulates you from raising your fees during difficult economic times, which could be around the corner.

7. Rent a portable point-of-sale (POS) terminal. Bank fees have shot up in most hospitals. Banks, like many other service providers are raising fees to cover their increased costs, but there is one area in which you can directly impact this expense. Inputting payment over the phone is considered a “card not present” transaction and there is typically an additional fee. According to Marc Milewski from Blue Pay, “card not present” costs range from 0.2% to 1% which can result in a veterinary hospital paying thousands of dollars in extra fees. One simple solution is to rent a portable POS terminal for $35 a month and use the terminal for curbside transactions. In addition to saving thousands of dollars in fees, a portable POS will save receptionists the phone calls required to clients in their cars to get payment information. Most curbside transactions already require staff to come into some contact with clients, such as when they collect the pet, so there is little added risk in introducing a portable POS.

8. Implement technician appointments. Some veterinary hospitals are coping with the difficulty in hiring associate veterinarians by using veterinary technicians to conduct appointments. A whole day of technician appointments handling parasite testing and treatment, rechecks, and booster vaccinations can free up a lot of veterinarian time, to be redirected elsewhere.

9. Use MyVetStore for automatic food reordering. Admittedly, many hospitals are too busy to invest in a new service like automatic reorder, but MyVetStore is probably one of the best investments a veterinary hospital can make to secure long-lasting, hassle-free dietary sales. Taking a few precious minutes to sign a client up for automatic reordering on their pet’s diet can save more time down the road and improve safety by eliminating in-person transactions every month. Financially, it is a win because there is clear evidence that automatic reorder increases compliance on diet sales.

10. Telemedicine. As an adjunct service to conventional veterinary care, telemedicine can keep a schedule flowing during times of restricted access. According to a recent Ontario survey of pet owners, 75% had their issue resolved during a pet-absent telemedicine consult. Offering the option of telemedicine or in-person consultations may be part of the new reality with COVID but can also be a viable option during times of inclement weather or for clients who have had success with a telemedicine consult.