In 2020, COVID-19 has affected almost every industry, and the veterinary industry has also experienced the effects of COVID-19.
In March, veterinary professionals were deemed ‘essential workers’ by the CDC for the treatment and care of pets, and for public health safety. During this time, small animal veterinary clinics witnessed the greatest surge in new patients and requests for veterinary service.
In addition to the current pet parent population, many new pet parents yearned for companionship. Being quarantined and isolated from loved ones, pets provided comfort during the pandemic. Now that many people had the ability to work remotely, it seemed like the perfect time to adopt a pet. As a result of increased adoptions during the pandemic, veterinary clinics have seen plenty of new pet patients. Overwhelmed veterinary clinics feel like they are drowning in the number of appointments seen per day. Even the appointment schedules remain fully booked several days out, with surgeries scheduled almost one month out. Veterinary emergency clinics have also witnessed up to eight-hour wait times, which is unheard of in the veterinary field.
Taking your pet in for a routine exam, communicating with the veterinary staff, and having conversations with other clients came to an abrupt halt when the virus began. Veterinary clinics began to limit and postpone routine vaccine appointments until there was stability around what to expect with the pandemic and to ensure employee safety. Many wellness check-ups, non-elective surgeries, such as spays, neuters, dentals, etc., were deferred until more information could be known about the nature of the virus, as well as when veterinary clinics could secure PPE to perform elective procedures.
As a precaution, clients were no longer able to accompany their pets into the hospital, and direct contact with the veterinarian and veterinary staff became limited. This gave birth to curbside veterinary services, which amplified the bottlenecks and inefficiencies present in veterinary healthcare systems across the world. Reported wait times increased, appointment schedules booked up a few days and even weeks out, and the chances of obtaining a same-day appointment were slim. The entire structure of processes used pre-COVID needed revamping to streamline patient care and ensure the continuity of care.
With full appointment books, veterinary professionals quickly adapted to providing veterinary services curbside but the ability to effectively communicate with clients became difficult. Not all veterinary practices have the equipment to triage appointments with limited contact, and electronic communication. As we move into providing curbside services this winter, veterinary clinics should consider digitizing all of their intake forms and communicating with clients via telephone, video chat, and other electronic methods. Practice professionals need to think outside of the box, revisit how to conduct basic appointments, and enhance their communication with clients and each other.
Pet owners should also consider providing basic information regarding their pet electronically. Some of the key questions veterinary practices will ask during a pet appointment are:
- Presenting concern
- Current Diet
- Is your pet current on Heartworm and Flea/Tick Control, and which products?
- Are there any changes in appetite, thirst, urination, or defecation habits?
- Has there been any vomiting, coughing, or sneezing?
- Have you noticed any itching, limping, or masses noted?
People will do more than they once did to preserve the human-animal bond with their pets and as a result have been spending more money on pet care. Pets no longer reside as barn animals, farm animals, or a piece of property. They are members of our families, and pet parents will do more than they have ever done before to preserve and prolong the lives of their pets. Ensuring veterinary teams and pet parents can work together to provide the best care of their pet has resulted in veterinary professionals relying more and more on electronic communication. Veterinary teams are exhausted, and are experiencing absences routinely. Keeping up with communication regarding what is entailed in the basic care of a pet has become more difficult.
There’s so much to learn when owning a pet, and to assist pet owners with this role, pet health companies have started offering owner specific educational courses and reading material. They also provide resources regarding how to brush your pet’s teeth, certain disease conditions, and breed specific information. There are many articles online by accredited veterinary journals such as the AVMA, Life Learn, AAHA, and more pertaining to specific food and medications made by pet healthcare companies such as Zoetis, Merck, Royal Canin, and Hills. These resources can help pet owners learn more about the health of their pet.
Veterinary offices also have access to a plethora of educational materials. These can be built into a repository around the most frequently asked questions on veterinary topics pertaining to a pet’s healthcare status and be shared with clients. Interactions between pet owners and veterinary professionals is so limited now that pet owners will need to teach themselves things that veterinary professionals would usually demonstrate, for exam administering eye medication. Pet owners should also consider familiarizing themselves with how to promote a fear-free environment at home. By doing so, pet owners can learn how to create stress-free environments at home and control anxiety early on to help the pet live a happy and healthy life.
One thing I hope will happen is the use of pet owner webinars, and more educational videos for pet owners to view at home on how to take care of their pets when they can’t get to the vet. The rise in pet ownership compared to the number of vet professionals seems to have spiked at a ratio that’s hard to keep up with. Educating pet owners about common injuries and illnesses that can be cured at home via telehealth visits, will help reduce the backlog of veterinary visits. This may also alleviate the burden veterinary professionals face with the excessive surplus of appointments given the situation that has arisen with COVID-19.
Have you experienced any best practices or areas of improvement in veterinary curbside services? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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