5 ways your practice can recover from covid-19
By Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, President, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians
Some veterinary hospitals have gone to urgent and emergency care only, cancelling all non-essential appointments and elective surgical and dental procedures. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advocates for veterinary hospitals and ambulatory practices to be considered essential businesses in situations where non-essential businesses are asked to close for COVID-19 risk mitigation. As you adjust plans day by day, look at how your small business can recover from this crisis. Here are five strategies you should implement now:
1. provide curbside concierge service.
To maintain social distancing and keep clients and employees safe, go curbside and restrict pet owners from entering your building.
When clients call to book appointments, explain the process: “Please call us from your car when you arrive for your pet’s appointment. A veterinary nurse will meet you to ask you questions about your pet and to explain the services we will deliver. We will take your pet inside the hospital and perform care while you wait in your car. A doctor will call you on your cell phone to explain exam findings, treatments, and medications. A receptionist will review your pet’s services and fees over the phone and get your credit-card information for payment. The veterinary nurse will bring your pet, medications, and paid receipt to you in our parking lot. We appreciate the opportunity to care for your pet and have a safe environment for everyone.”
2. get an online store.
Clients will need to refill preventatives and long-term medications. You can’t afford to miss this recurring revenue. In addition to curbside pickup of foods and medications, talk with your veterinary distributor about setting up and promoting your online store. If you already have an online store, drastically increase your sales. Send email blasts to clients, share social media posts, update on-hold messages, and tell every caller.
Encourage clients to sign up for auto shipments, which improves compliance and helps you avoid seasonal declines. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) compliance study found only 55 percent of dogs get year-round heartworm preventatives. Let’s say a client buys six months of heartworm preventatives. Set up one auto-ship refill in five months when one dose will remain. Because a heartworm test and exam will be due at the completion of one automatic refill, you will send reminders for the exam, heartworm test, prescription renewal, and other services included in the checkup.
An over-the-counter flea/tick product also could be set up on auto shipments. When one dose remains, you would alert the client via text, app, or email: “Your auto refill of <brand name> to protect your pet from fleas and ticks has been filled and is on the way.”
Auto-ship single doses. Distributors offer monthly delivery of single doses of preventatives with free shipping. Receiving monthly doses in the mail will help clients on limited budgets as well as multi-pet families where the client may not be able to buy 12-packs of preventatives for six dogs at the same time. (This also breaks the habit of sharing a box of preventatives between multiple pets.) Get more training in my online CE course “Quit Losing to Internet Pharmacies: How to Sell More Preventatives” (https://shop.csvets.com/new-releases/quit-losing-to-internet-pharmacies-how-to-sell-more-preventatives/).
3. offer telemedicine services.
Get an app for your hospital with telemedicine capabilities. Live video consultations with a messaging tool that allows pictures, videos, and other attachments will let you share information back and forth with clients. Many telemedicine apps integrate with practice-management software for medical record-keeping and invoicing. Use telehealth for initial consultations as well as follow-up care, setting your own prices and hours.
Define types of cases you can see using telemedicine. Dr. Lori Teller, DABVP (canine/feline), CV, at Meyerland Animal Clinic in Houston used telemedicine for an orthopedic patient with intermittent lameness. The client said her dog limped at home but acted normally at the hospital. Telemedicine let Dr. Teller see the problem happening and combine the client’s video with her earlier hands-on exam.
Besides helping you see patients virtually during the COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine lets you fix low compliance for follow-up exams and post-surgical assessments. AAHA and AVMA have published a digital guide on The Real-Life Rewards of Virtual Care: How to turn your hospital into a digitally connected practice with telehealth. Download at https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/Telehealth-Virtual-Care-Brochure.pdf.
4. audit your reminders.
Make a list of every vaccine, medication, diagnostic test, and treatment that needs to be repeated. Let’s say your hospital performs a drug-monitoring test for dogs on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) every six months. Send a reminder one month before the test is due so the client has ample time to schedule an appointment. You’ll also prevent the confrontational conversation when a receptionist has to tell the client her dog’s NSAID can’t be refilled until the test is done. Likewise, send reminders for senior pets that get early detection screens, blood pressure checks, and other recurring diagnostics.
When you send medication refill reminders, you’ll eliminate the frustration of last-minute calls from clients who wait until the last pill is gone. Refill reminders can be app notices, emails, or texts that link to your online store.
5. increase callbacks.
Electronic medical records make it easy to search patients by diagnostic codes. Check the exam and diagnostic status of patients with your top 10 chronic health problems such as arthritis, cardiomyopathy, allergies, diabetes, and others.
Let’s say your standard of care is to see diabetic patients every three months to monitor glucose levels, check weight loss or gain, and assess overall health. Run a report on diabetic patients, sorting by the date of the last visit.
Have receptionists call clients with diabetic patients that have not been seen in longer than three months. Explain, “Dr. <Name> asked me to call you about <pet name>. He/she noticed that <pet name> is overdue for an exam and blood test to monitor glucose levels so we may manage your pet’s diabetes. Dr. <Name> can see <pet name> on Monday at 11 a.m. or Thursday at 4 p.m. Which do you prefer?” Lead the client to schedule with the yes-or-yes technique, which gets stronger compliance than the yes-or-no choice of “Do you want to schedule an appointment?”
COVID-19 is an opportunity for your veterinary practice to examine the way you serve clients and patients. The initiatives you start today will help you get through this crisis and establish ongoing revenue streams. Use this pandemic as a reason to work “on” your business rather than just “in” your business.
 COVID-19 Updates. AVMA email to members. Available at: https://echo4.bluehornet.com/hostedemail/email.htm?CID=41754840731&ch=0B4C3F8FC25BADF3C7E8514E62BDCDCD&h=4bedb94f04ecc3a8b8746c6d022f84b0&ei=7mKQI-lNW&st=15-MAR-20. Accessed March 23, 2020.
 Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level. American Animal Hospital Association, 2009:11,19.
 The Real-Life Rewards of Virtual Care: How to turn your hospital into a digitally connected practice with telehealth. Available at: https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/Telehealth-Virtual-Care-Brochure.pdf. Accessed March 23, 2020.