How to manage COVID 19 and its impact on my practice?
We may only be seeing the beginning of a significant health crisis, with global impact on people’s lives and health. In parallel, we already see the impact on many industries and all over the world governments are trying to prevent or stop an economical crash. Time will tell if the current measures will be effective to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Let’s remain optimistic, and prepare for the time when normal activity will resume. It may take several weeks, possibly months, but we will get through this historic period in time that affects us all.
In the meantime, veterinarians need to adapt and use alternative methods of practising in order to provide assistance to their clients and avoid severe economic consequences for their businesses and staff. Clinics have been following guidance from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and British Veterinary Association to reduce face-to-face contact for all but essential care. Just as with people, elective surgeries and treatments are being delayed, when possible.
Other veterinary hospitals have simply closed, referring their clients to local emergency hospitals. Our intention with this article is to summarise some of the actions and services veterinarians have adopted and help our colleagues by suggesting some approaches that may be used during this difficult time. We don’t pretend to have a “recipe” that will match every hospital’s situation. We simply suggest you to “pick & choose” what you believe would work for you, for your practice, your clients, and your environment. Please share your experiences and reactions with us on our social platforms. It will help others and enrich the content of this article.
We believe that when this crisis is over people will remember how businesses served and communicated with them. Care and attention to communication during critical events is an investment in client engagement and retention. Businesses that have strengthened client relationships and retained customers stand a better chance of recovery after the dust has settled. We hope the following comments will help you to better prepare the ‘day after’.
Thank you and know you have our very best wishes during this challenging time. Remain safe and follow the guidelines detailed everywhere now to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
The Medi-Productions/ VisioCare Team
1. Have a Plan
There is a clear need for practices to set a COVID-19 operational plan. Some people refer to this time as a ’battle’ against the virus, therefore there is a need for a strategy to fight back’. Businesses are no longer managed in the same way and many practices are adjusting procedures in order to respond quickly to this new environment.
Among the decisions and actions we have seen in veterinary medicine globally, practices have implemented the following measures:
- Curbside service & vehicle waiting room
Many practices have begun offering curbside or car park pickup for patients and products so that clients can safely remain in their vehicles.
- Focusing on cases needing immediate attention (emergencies) BUT not restricting all preventive care!
Such measures include delaying elective surgeries and visits. Vaccinations protection should be based on a risk assessment or following the latest advice from regulatory bodies. Make sure to re-schedule all appointments that you decide to postpone.
- Extending appointment times
Practices are extending the length of appointments to facilitate proper disinfecting and cleaning procedures after each exam. It’s also important to allow extra time to provide a full and more extensive client experience where face-to-face time is limited.
- Using visual communication tools
Visual aids will prove useful when you cannot consult with clients face to face, adding an extra educational element to conversations. These tools are available on tablets and/or smartphones and will facilitate client understanding and decision-making.
- Increasing strict cleaning and disinfecting of the premises
Practices are updating their cleaning policies based on government recommendations and educating employees on Covid-19 best practices, including self-isolating when sick.
- Protecting staff and employees
Provide staff members with appropriate PPE and make sure all possible preventive measures are in place. You want your staff to feel safe, protected and cared for at this time of risk to their own health.
- Split teams
Having staff split into two separate teams working week on – week off with thorough disinfection between teams, can reduce the risk of spread of infection within the practice.
- Removing unneeded items
To prevent unnecessary contact, practices are restricting or removing items such as coffee makers and magazines, while making hand gel disinfectant readily available to all.
- Caring for the elderly or disabled client.
Some practices are contacting elderly or disabled clients, especially those whose pets have chronic conditions, to make sure they have all they need and are well cared for.
- Offering solidarity
Some practices have loaned their critical care equipment to human hospitals where appropriate.
- Restricting purchase quantities
Restricting the number of items clients can purchase is helping some practices’ inventory levels, while enabling all patients to be served.
- Revisiting HR policies
Many practices may have to adjust sick leave and paid time off policies for employees, while also restricting overtime. Some are even cross-training employees where appropriate, in preparation for covering staff absences. It may be a good time to ask local veterinary students if they can help if needed.
- Managing Suppliers & Inventory
Practices may stock up on essential products but should not go overboard on supplies. Anticipate supply shortages and longer delivery times so you don’t get caught unprepared.
- Consider ecommerce
It may be worth considering selling from your inventory online. This is a time for innovating for the future, not merely to reduce current financial hardship, but to open up new longer-term revenue streams. Think of ways to help you strengthen your relationship with clients and keep them doing business with you, in new ways, from the convenience of their home.
Client communication is the key! … even more during a crisis.
Practices need to go above and beyond to let clients know that they are still open and if their operational times have changed… Many are receiving a flood of calls from concerned clients, and we suggest that all practices be sympathetic to client concerns during these difficult moments. Some pets are being abandoned because of misinformation associated with fears about COVID 19 transmission from animals to people. Announcements should be prominently placed on the hospital’s websites, social media pages, and at the physical premises. Including the parking lot, when clients are no longer entering into the building.
Media that should be updated:
Practice boards & signs
Create a “dedicated resources page” on your practice website.
Place a banner or a clear visible block message on the welcome page: COVID 19 Information & News with a link to your dedicated page. On the dedicated web page, several points could be detailed and updated regularly as the situation is constantly changing… You will be able to refer your clients to this page using links when you send messages to your clients (SMS text, emails).
- Your Mission:
- “during this difficult period for everyone, be assured that we are focused on delivering the best care for your pet, focusing on emergencies and urgent needs…”
- We will keep you informed and will contact you regularly and we encourage you to consult this page and look for any update as information may change from day to day as is the case with all news and confinement rules.
- Clinic admission policies
- Your opening hours and emergency or immediate care contact
- The telehealth channel and remote consultation (if you have adopted such a system)
- Your solutions for online purchasing or ordering & pick-up of medications
- Your solutions for online booking
- The link & information to your pet owner and clinic smartphone app or external services you may use to communicate remotely)
- Your Mission:
- Use Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram) to share information with your clients
- Phone Directories & Voicemails.
- Blog: a blog on your webpage will allow your clients to communicate BUT you will need to devote time and effort to answering these messages.
- Chat service: A two-way chat service that offers complete control (in duration and access) has been developed and is offered in the VisioCare-Linkyvet service. Access the demo video and take advantage of the 30-day free trial period, with no contract as part of our special COVID-19 offer to assist veterinarians during the current crisis.
Provide pet owners with a reliable option to check pet health disorders and determine urgency.
myBuddy pet app© is a great solution that contains a number of illustrated factsheets with videos and 3D animations. These educational documents are all validated by veterinarians and will stop clients from being misled and misinformed.
myBuddy pet app© is the most comprehensive pet owner smartphone app on the market worldwide and it offers multiple interesting features and benefits (appointments, reminders, access to the medical record, prescriptions, chat, news from animals in the hospital, purchase of products including drugs, illustrated and animated educational factsheets that are breed specific, etc. We encourage you to ask for a demonstration.
Two things are always true in a crisis:
- All people are frightened by the idea of being cut off from resources during a crisis. Tell your clients about pet supplies and offer a way to order and deliver these products.
- When people must hunt around for resources in a state of need and confusion, their stress levels can go through the roof. In stressful times, people can make bad decisions, from driving their cars too fast to taking pet health misinformation online as being correct and acting on it. Tell them about your blog, your website, your app that has “validated information” vs unsecured and sometimes “fake news”.
To help alleviate anxiety for pet owners, create a dedicated page on your practice website that offers clients tools and resources to help them with pet health needs and concerns.
Provide pet owners with a reliable way to check pet health disorders and determine urgency. VisioCare Home contains several dozens of videos and animations related to home care and diseases that you can download and place on your website. Ask us about these useful content visual aids that will addvalue and enrich your website. The pet owner app myBuddy pet app© is a comprehensive and unique app for pet owners that contains an important number of illustrated fact-sheets with videos and 3D animations. These educational documents are all validated by veterinarians and will stop clients from being misled and misinformed.
It is a good idea to reduce unnecessary person-to-person contact by helping pet owners determine if certain symptoms require immediate attention, or if they can continue to monitor symptoms at home.
myBuddy pet app© also has a “news section” that is updated live and automatically each week, including with generic news associated with the current crisis. You have access to these news items and you can create your own news easily and quickly, therefore accessing your clients using a channel of communication in their pocket at all times…
In addition to re-evaluating operational plans on a daily basis, some veterinarians have increased their focus on the customer experience and future planning, linked to a new mode of practicing, is taking shape.
Here are a few examples of actions:
- Home delivery
Many practices may want to consider online ordering or recommending a vet-sponsored home delivery system, such as those offered by various delivery providers. Practices that already offer home delivery are now explicitly communicating this to clients and encouraging them to utilise it.
Many practices are researching and implementing telemedicine capabilities since the RCVS relaxed the restrictions on remote prescribing of medication. Several providers are available, and the new VisioCare Linkyvet platform is one of the most advanced available at this time, allowing a bi-directional chat, including pictures and videos sharing, and also a secured video-conference mode with live video through the client smartphone. You can also share animations and videos with the client from our VisioCare Consult library on the practice portal as an add-on option. The system contains a secure credit card billing module, allowing veterinarians to charge whatever they wish to charge directly via the app. Practices that are already equipped with telemedicine are actively promoting it to clients. For those who are not, it may be now the proper time to move ahead and provide a certain level of remote medical care.
Even at the best of times, people value reassurance and peace of mind. Amid the COVID- 19 crisis, people need reassurance more than ever. When you provide after-hours tele-triage, you help strengthen engagement and keep your practice foremost in the minds of clients. If you elect to charge your clients for a telehealth consult, the VisioCare Linkyvet service allows you to do so, easily and securely.
- Delay payment plans
Practices are also planning for future economic issues by offering alternative payment plans for clients who may be financially impacted by shutdown measures.
- Business economic support
Government economic support is available for small businesses. In addition, you may be able to furlough staff, delay VAT payments and other regular bill payments. Go through your direct debit list (both for the practice and your own personal finances!) and contact each provider to see if payments can be delayed or deferred. Banks are also encouraged to offer low rate small business loans.
4. Take Care of Yourself
During a crisis, it is even more important to practice good self-care. Aside from all the sanitary measures (washing hands, wearing PPE, removing and washing clothes when coming home, showering, etc), there are several wellbeing actions one should consider.
Taking frequent breaks is helpful to wellbeing. Go for a walk outside, get lost in a good book, watch a movie or a series on TV, do whatever you can to safely distract yourself and give yourself a break from the 24/7 news cycle that covers Covid-19 drama. Vetlife has some good suggestions and tips, such as restricting yourself to one trusted news source and checking this a maximum of twice daily.
Encourage employees to do the same and check in on them regularly. Be vigilant and watch for signs of burnout and loneliness in furloughed staff. The current crisis can be taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally.
As we mentioned in our introduction, we will prevail. Together we can get through the crisis faster, and with less damage. We will help our families and loved , but we can also support our profession, our colleagues, our clients, and their animals. The animal health industry is small and professional solidarity is another good reason to assist each other. This is one of the reasons we are offering the VisioCare LinkyVet service at no cost for 30 days. Ask us for a video demo.
The survival of any business relies on both short and long-term action in response to what people want and need. In times of crisis, people fundamentally want to hear communications and find resources that say one thing: “We are here to help you in every way possible.” The actions your practice will take in the short term to convey this message, will factor significantly inhelping you to weather the current COVID-19 economic storm.
Please share your ideas and contact us if you have questions or concerns. If we can help you with anything, let us know.
Remain safe and stay well.
The VisioCare Services Team