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COVID-19, Online Exclusive

5 Considerations for Reopening Your Clinic

The pandemic forced operational changes. Have you decided what will stay, return to the old way or evolve further?

5 Considerations for Reopening Your ClinicWe’re well over a year into the pandemic, and uncertainties around businesses reopening and certain restrictions being lifted still loom. While many veterinary clinics have reopened, the Delta variant has made returning to the “normal” protocols in place before COVID-19 increasingly difficult. Continued masking, proof of vaccination and social distancing are some of the most common requirements to consider these days. Whether your practice is about to reopen or has done so, you must prepare for potential challenges. While reopening has no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few considerations when devising a solid strategy.

Should Curbside Service Continue?

The top question across all businesses looking to reopen is, what are their options? Should curbside service continue, or would a hybrid model be better? In a poll of over 200 webinar attendees, PetDesk found that 93% overwhelmingly said they would keep some form of curbside service, which proves how effective the option has been for many practices. That said, if you are switching to a hybrid model, here are additional questions:
  • Will you keep curbside if the client waits in the car versus in the lobby during an appointment?
  • Will you keep curbside just for medication pickups?
  • Will you keep curbside just for pet drop-offs?

Staffing and Scheduling Concerns

With many veterinary practices already booked into 2022, managing your staff’s schedule should be top of mind. Having to put clients on a months long waitlist is sure to cause stress. Adjusting appointment lengths to accommodate curbside service — whether less or more time — provides more wiggle room. But what about same-day appointments for pets that need immediate attention? This might mean designating a doctor to handle same-day or walk-in appointments or reducing the number of same-day slots to allow doctors to see more scheduled appointments. The key is balancing your staff’s capacity and well-being with the time between now and the first available appointment slot. Instead of placing staffing and scheduling responsibilities on one person, consider holding a team meeting to gather valuable input on those decisions.

Addressing the Booking-Out Problem

When it comes to your patients, maintaining strong and regular correspondence is a top priority. This has undoubtedly been tough during the pandemic, as booking appointments has become more difficult. More appointments also mean more calls to your front desk staff. To ease this pressure, veterinary client communication tools allow clients to schedule appointments on their smartphones and forgo calls that tie up the team. Further considerations:
  • Did you limit how far out clients could book appointments during the pandemic, and will your post-COVID policies change?
  • For emergency visits, how will your practice triage patients and prioritize who is brought in?

Should You Reorganize the Clinic Layout?

To keep staff and clients healthy, you must create an environment in which everyone feels safe. Reorganizing your clinic’s layout might not sound like the most pressing item on your reopening list, but it should be. For example, consider your front lobby — will it have seating for clients waiting for their appointments, or should they wait in their cars until an exam room opens? Additional questions to keep in mind:
  • If and once protocols are lifted, will you continue to encourage social distancing by placing tables and chairs at least 6 feet apart and setting a maximum room capacity?
  • For in-person appointments, will you continue to allow only one client to meet with a doctor or veterinary technician at a time? And will you let clients into the exam rooms instead of having them wait in the lobby?

Client Communication

To set expectations for clients, make sure your communications plan reflects any updates or changes. Specifically, here are places to start:
  • Your website: Providing regular updates in the form of homepage popups, a banner, a special page or some combination should be a priority.
  • Your social media: Regular updates in the form of graphics accompanied by helpful text go a long way. For a more personalized approach, consider uploading videos that share fun announcements from the staff.
  • Health service reminders: Sending appointment reminders is extremely successful when done with advanced notice. Should a last-minute rescheduling be needed, a quick text or email explanation should be sent as far enough in advance as possible to mitigate confusion.
  • Appointment requests and confirmations: Set client expectations by detailing what the in-clinic experience will entail. Once the appointment is booked, a simple message, such as “Your appointment is confirmed. Please remember that only one caretaker is allowed to accompany the patient at a time,” is helpful. If you’re not allowing clients inside, the gentle reminder, “Please wait in your car, and someone will be out shortly to retrieve your pet,” will help avoid confusion. A firm understanding of any new or changing operational protocols is imperative to a successful visit.
  • Front desk calls: Having a script for your receptionist to read from is the easiest way to ensure the proper scheduling of an appointment. You likely have such a system, but if you don’t, the goal is to ensure that every client has heard your protocols at least once before an appointment.
Overall, finding solutions to these five considerations will help build a solid foundation for your practice once reopening time arrives. That said, understand that any reopening plan likely will evolve as you continue to navigate the “new normal.” Whatever your strategy, communication across your staff and clients should remain consistent and span a variety of channels. And remember, the success of your practice is dependent on the well-being of your employees. There is no reopening phase if you don’t have a staff, and happy employees are essential to keeping patients happy. Taylor Cavanah is the co-founder and CEO of PetDesk, whose software integrates with practice information management systems to help veterinary clinics manage loyalty plans, online reviews and automated reminders.
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