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A 5-step approach to telemedicine

E-consultations might be just what your practice needs — or maybe not. First, you have to assess the situation.

A 5-step approach to telemedicineIs telemedicine the right solution for you? Well, that depends on the problem you are trying to solve. With COVID-19 putting the brakes on the traditional client experience, veterinarians are pushing the limits on innovation through new options like exams with a curbside wait and local home delivery for same-day product needs. Many are scrambling to implement a telemedicine solution. Many practices are asking, “Which telemedicine platform is the best?” The question is very similar to an acute abdomen that just arrived in your parking lot. The same advice applies: “Whoa, buddy, hold up before you grab that scalpel! Let’s think this through!” Before you cut, you have to assess the situation in order to stabilize the patient. This requires you to identify the problem, project the outcome of different treatment options, predict how much time you have before it all goes down the drain, collaborate with the stakeholders to identify a mutual decision, and decide if you have the right equipment and training to get the job done. Before you jump off the telemedicine cliff, take a moment to tackle these five steps.

1. Identify the Problem

Without knowing the problem, you are just rolling the dice in looking for a solution. I recall that around my fourth or fifth acute abdomen, I assumed it was the usual GDV. I grabbed a 16-gauge needle and trocharized the German shepherd’s abdomen, only to unleash serous fluid all over the floor. I had failed to identify the heart failure before I jumped the gun on a solution. So, take a moment and identify your practice’s problem. It could be:
  • You are overwhelmed with business.
  • Business is down and you are considering staff layoffs.
  • You want to minimize COVID-19 exposure to your team and community.

2. Review the Options

Before you grab that scalpel, review your choices. Now that you know the problem, spend time brainstorming available treatment options. I always try to come up with three options in any situation. If telemedicine is your first idea, think of at least two more ways to resolve your problem. Brainstorming can force you be creative and innovative. If you’ve ever turned a piece of X-ray film into an e-collar, you know what I’m talking about.

3. Rate the Decision Urgency

Time is your friend in all situations. One of the best pieces of advice I received was this: “When you have the luxury of waiting to make a decision, then wait.” Time has a way of clarifying the situation and reducing the burden of making the right decision. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option when time is of the essence, so know your runway length. If your practice’s revenue is crashing and you are faced with staff layoffs sooner than later, then the decision urgency is high. If you are overwhelmed with business, then you have a bit more time to think things through. I’ll put it this way: Time plus options equals a higher chance of success.

4. Collaborate With Stakeholders

Unless you are a true solo practitioner, now is a great opportunity to boost team morale by bringing everyone together during a time of crisis. Suddenly, petty issues that make you want to pull your hair out each day fall to the wayside and your staff jumps into collaboration mode. Take the time to present the problem (not the solution) to your team members and listen to the ideas that bubble up. Is telemedicine one of their ideas? Since they are going to be critical players in implementing telemedicine, getting team buy-in is important, even during a pandemic. Gather all the ideas and pick the top three. Then, talk to your clients. You need more than ever to understand the needs of your customer, the pet owner. Before you implement a solution, be very sure that you understand their fundamental needs. How do you do this? Talk to the people who aren’t coming in. When they call to cancel — or perhaps you called them to postpone an appointment — take the opportunity to try your new solutions on them and gauge their reaction. For example, “Mrs. Smith, if you had the ability to text with us, would you like that?” “If you could video conference with us, would you like that?” “If you waited in your car while we worked on your pet, would you like that?”

5. Decide and Implement

Once you have identified a viable solution, go, go, go. Don’t get stuck on the details, which can lead to paralysis by analysis. Unlike an acute abdomen, technology allows you to pivot quickly, and no one will die. The market is overwhelmed with telemedicine providers, so do this:
  • Find peers who have jumped before you and ask them to recommend a few providers.
  • Sit through a few demonstrations. This allows you to meet the companies and learn about their platforms. I advise consulting with no more than three of them to avoid technology overload.
  • Choose a partner that fits your style and go for it.
Don’t overthink Step 5. If you find yourself in a less than ideal situation, then go back and find a technology partner that is an ideal fit. Getting caught up in a panicky “hurry-hurry” mentality is easy, but the professional is the one who will pause and assess before rushing into a decision. Once the problem has been identified, pick a solution and get rolling. Commit and go. Get in that abdomen, find the bleeder, ligate and get back to your regularly scheduled appointments and your life. Dr. Stacee Santi is founder of Vet2Pet, a technology company whose mobile app is designed to attract, engage and retain clients.