Eight COVID-inspired workflows veterinary practices should keep
Veterinary practices have implemented numerous changes to their workflow as they adapted to the pandemic and related lockdowns. As COVID-19 vaccinations increase, more and more restrictions will be lifted. This leaves veterinarians with a question: which workflows should stick around after the pandemic? Which changes are so beneficial to pet parents and veterinary practices that it would be best not to give them up?
1. Continue telehealth services
Many veterinary practices implemented telehealth services for the first time last year in order to reduce the need for in-person visits, especially during lockdowns. This natural evolution in veterinary care was fast-tracked because of the pandemic. In 2019, Banfield Pet Hospital found that 71 percent of pet owners were already seeking advice about their pet's health online instead of going to their veterinarian.
A good online triage service lets pet owners analyze their pet's health online using a vet-approved tool to discover if their pet has an urgent need that requires a video consult. After the appointment, some practices follow-up with a second video consult to see how the pet is doing. Keeping a service like this shows that your practice is trying to meet all the patients' needs and provide valuable information whenever an emergency occurs.
The AAHA/AVMA recently released telehealth guidelines for small animal practices, with the expectation that many veterinarians will continue offering these services. While urgent lockdown conditions may have prompted the use of telehealth services in the first place, now is the time to streamline them into a more efficient, smoother process.
The AAHA/AVMA guidelines encourage practices to consider just how "connected" their care will be moving forward. Perhaps you are offering e-triage online, followed by recommendations for in-person visits. Some veterinarians may move beyond this to monitoring pets at homes by video or even using technology to remotely track a pet's vital signs, sleep, or glucose levels.
2. Maintain touchless payment systems
For the first time, many veterinarians began offering touchless, digital payment options. Rather than checking out with a receptionist after the appointment, patients will already have a payment method verified and approved in the system, increasing efficiency. Touchless payments aren't just helpful for clients. Veterinary staff benefit greatly from the increased efficiency too, which allows them to focus more on other patient needs.
Consider not only continuing this service but expanding the touchless payment system to include payment plans that offer quick enrollment and instant client approval.
3. Expand your digital solutions
Now that veterinary practice clients have taken the time to learn how to use digital solutions, it's best to continue offering them. Whether this involves letting clients sign in and check out digitally, fill out paperwork online, or log into a portal to get updates on their pet's health, digital solutions can increase efficiency and free up your staff's time.
Once you can catch your breath after the pandemic, consider if you're using the best digital solutions possible. For example, a digital sign-in service should work on any mobile device, connect with your practice management system to provide a pet's medical history, and offer customized digital forms.
But can you expand your services even beyond this? Consider adding a robust client engagement platform that manages and automates your communications. Some services not only manage email and two-way text messages, but even allow you to send physical postcards from the same system. By automating appointment reminders and follow-up messages, no pet will fall through the cracks and you can spend more time focusing on personal messages for clients with urgent concerns. The automated reminders also bring an added bonus: increased compliance. Pet owners are more likely to follow-through with their pet's health when they have reminders to help them make checkups a priority.
Once you have the basics in place, consider adding new features for the coming year, like customer loyalty programs.
4. Consider expanding e-commerce and online pharmacy services
In 2020, many pet owners preferred buying their pet's medicine or supplies online. In fact, a survey in August 2020 found that 71 percent of pet owners said they're ordering and buying online more, including 56 percent using their smartphone.
When ordering from their veterinarian, they pick up products at the curbside or have them delivered to their homes. This can actually increase compliance, since it makes it easier for pet owners to get their medication without waiting in line or making a special trip. Rather than discontinuing this service when the pandemic ends, consider expanding it to include more products. Even after lockdowns end and life starts opening up more, many pet owners won't want to lose the time they saved ordering online and avoiding extra trips to the vet.
If your veterinary practice only had an online pharmacy, add an e-commerce store with pet products or vice versa. With so many small businesses affected by the pandemic, there's a big push to shop local. You might discover that clients prefer buying pet products and medicine from you rather than from a large online retailer so they can support the local community and economy.
Automated reminders bring an added bonus: increased compliance. Pet owners are more likely to follow through with their pet's health when they have reminders to make checkups a priority.
5. Add supplements to your new online catalog
During the pandemic, pet owners were not only concerned about their own health, but they became more engaged with their pets' health too. In fact, pet supplement sales skyrocketed in 2020, with sales growing by 21 percent. And of these sales, the veterinary sector had about 46 percent of the revenue. If you are not already offering supplements, you should consider expanding into this sector.
Supplement sales are expected to continue rising over the next four years, and pet owners often seek a veterinarian's recommendation when making their choices. So why not add these to your online catalog in 2021? Let your customers know about the new options. You might even dedicate a section in your newsletter or an email update to the new products.
6. Consider maintaining curbside drop-offs
Curbside drop-offs and pick-ups became a necessity during the pandemic, especially with strict lockdowns implemented in some regions. Although some pet owners missed face-to-face contact with veterinarians, others found the convenience helped them fit a vet appointment more easily into their busy day.
Continuing the option of curbside drop-offs is a great way to offer an extra convenience to your clients. Some of your clients, for example, might appreciate not having to carry a heavy cat carrier into your office. Others might need to drop off a pet while they run to get a child from school.
You'll need to honestly evaluate if you have the manpower and time to continue providing curbside services. If you do, you might want to make an effort to increase other forms of communication with your patients, such as calling the day after an appointment to check on how their pet is doing.
This can help grow the bond between you and your clients, which might feel a little more distant if they're not seeing you for in-person visits.
7. Onboard new technology even as the pandemic lifts
Last year was a time for forced restrictions and urgent innovations. This year is a time to expand your services as the world begins to open up. Not only should your practice consider retaining new services offered during the pandemic, but you also might want to onboard some additional technology. Each time you introduce a new solution, you'll not only need to train your employees, but you'll need educational materials for your clients, too.
The AAHA/AVMA guidelines for telehealth recommend finding one person in your practice who is passionate about integrating technology into animal health services. This person can research and "champion" which resources would be best to expand into next.
8. Keep your preventive care financial plans
In addition to digitizing many forms of online payment, veterinary practices have also introduced options for preventive care economic planning. Economic uncertainty created an appetite for spreading the cost of care into monthly installments, making veterinary care accessible to even more people. With economic uncertainty continuing even after the pandemic, your practice might want to maintain these installment options. Providing information about pet insurance is another way you can help customers shoulder the costs of care.