Preparing for the post-pandemic veterinary business landscape
Veterinary associates and practice owners are understandably worried about the future in a post-pandemic world. But there are bright spots and opportunities.
In December 2019, the NAVC undertook a research project to better understand how veterinary professionals feel about their job, the industry in which they work and emerging trends in the veterinarian/animal care space. The results were published in Amplifying the Voice of the Veterinary Community, which we at the NAVC planned to use to inform and develop best-in-class support and services. Among our ideas were to provide more resources to support veterinary professionals who identified work-life balance, depression and mental health issues, student debt and low pay as challenges negatively affecting their well-being.
But shortly after publishing the survey results, the NAVC and the veterinary community, along with the rest of the world, were sent reeling by COVID-19. The result of the pandemic has been a massive, rapid and ongoing hit to the global economy.
We at the NAVC shifted our attention to helping the veterinary community grapple with the effects of the coronavirus. Our Spark team produced videos that detailed best practices on providing virtual care. Today’s Veterinary Business started a weekly series called Tales from the COVID-19 Front Lines, which offered wide-ranging advice on addressing the crisis within the clinic, including protocols for services such as curbside pickups and tips on coping with leadership fatigue. The NAVC and VetFolio began offering CE for free and produced webinars and podcasts to help professionals navigate the unique demands of providing virtual care.
As we put the finishing touches on this inaugural issue of the Clinic Innovation Guide, there were still many unknowns about the economic recovery from the coronavirus. “Our economy has not seen contractions of this kind on a quarterly or annual basis since the aftershock of World War II,” notes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).1 There are three possible scenarios for recovery, reports the Harvard Business Review, which are — if they are depicted on graph paper — shaped like a V, U or L. These letters correspond to best-, middle- and worst-case scenarios, respectively.2
What’s in a Letter?
In early June, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared a recession in the United States, noting that the economy had begun its decline starting in February 2020.3 Here’s what the recovery could look like:
- V-shaped: This scenario describes the classic sharp downturn followed by a quick rebound in growth. “Think of it as a bad paper cut. It is sharp, it hurts like heck, it bleeds. But it heals quickly with no scarring,” notes the AVMA.1 In this scenario, says Harvard Business Review, annual growth rates could fully absorb the shock. They think it is a plausible scenario.2
- U-shaped: In this scenario, the shock persists for a longer period of time, and while growth does resume, there is some permanent loss of output.2 “The Great Recession,” which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, is a recent example of a U-shaped recession. “Let’s refer to it as a busted knee cap. It makes a paper cut look mild, but this is still healable, though there will be some permanent damage,” says the AVMA.1
- L-shaped: This scenario means there has been significant structural damage, with both economic output (GDP level) and economic productivity (GDP growth) irrevocably damaged, not unlike the Great Depression.1,2 Thankfully, most experts think we will avoid this worst-case scenario.3
It should be noted that economists also recognize a “double-dip,” W-shaped recession and recovery, which is not mentioned by the Harvard Business Review authors. In this scenario, the economy falls into recession, recovers with a short period of growth, then falls back into recession before finally recovering.
Develop Your “Silver Linings Playbook”
What does all of this mean for veterinary professionals and their relationships with clients and patients?
Among the suggestions the Harvard Business Review makes are:2
Look beyond the crisis, because the veterinary industry will survive it and recover, and assess and address the opportunities or challenges that will arise.
Ask yourself how you will lead in the post-crisis world and be part of better and faster adoption of innovation and new technologies to make your business better.
Here are some of the opportunities and bright spots for your clients, patients and clinic’s bottom line:
- Begin or expand your e-commerce offerings. Pet owners are purchasing products and medications for their animals online so that they can be directly delivered to their homes. Now more than ever, veterinary practices should consider starting or expanding their online retail presence. This is a trend that is not going away.
- Make virtual care a permanent part of your practice. Telehealth and telemedicine options are expected to become standard operating procedure once the crisis is in our collective rearview mirror. Veterinarians are realizing they can charge the normal exam fee for a telemedicine consult because clients, particularly younger ones, see the value in talking to their veterinarian online or over the phone.
- Continue concierge-type services. Curbside dropoffs and pickups may be a convenience that your clients will want you to maintain. Make it easy for clients to arrange for this service, submit their information online before the visit, and pay for products and services online. Make sure your process is simple, convenient and easy to follow.
While most everyone will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no single road map to recovery. Despite the uncertainty and unknowns, there is much to be optimistic about in the veterinary community. Those veterinary professionals who react positively and proactively will benefit by developing a stronger bond with their clients and taking steps to ensure the health and well-being of their patients.
1. American Veterinary Medical Association. COVID-19: Economic Impacts on the Veterinary Profession. avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/covid-19-economic-impacts-veterinary-profession. Accessed June 30, 2020.
2. Carlsson-Szelak P, Reeves M, Swartz P. What Coronavirus Could Mean for the Global Economy. Harvard Business Review. hbr.org/2020/03/what-coronavirus-could-mean-for-the-global-economy. Accessed June 30, 2020.
3. Rodeck D. Alphabet Soup: Understanding the Shape of a COVID-19 Recession. Forbes. forbes.com/advisor/investing/covid-19-coronavirus-recession-shape. Accessed June 30, 2020.