Hannah Lau, DVM, practices at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, California. She does telemedicine full time as part of a virtual hospital with a remote staff. Besides telemedicine, her interests include soft tissue surgery, veterinary outreach and teaching. Dr. Lau earned her DVM from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 2017.Read Articles Written by Hannah Lau
Although life in the time of COVID-19 is unprecedented, daunting and constantly changing, veterinary medical professionals are among the most adaptable, solution-oriented and innovative people I know. Pandemic life, with all its challenges, is another hurdle we’re jumping together.
Here are five challenges that every veterinary hospital is facing during the pandemic and some ideas on how to create solutions that your staff will want to take into the hopefully COVID-free future.
1. Use Telemedicine to Reduce Contact
Right now, the best way we can protect our teams and clients is to keep them out of the hospital. Curbside care is becoming standard in the field, and telemedicine is ready to shine. Now is the time to find a telemedicine software platform that works well for your team and roll it out to clients with purposeful intention.
Video consultations are a great way to maintain quality patient care while keeping clients at home. Telemedicine will remain an integral part of the field long after COVID-19 and has been shown to improve client compliance, increase access to care for immunocompromised and differently abled clients, and improve your work-life balance. Start small by using a telemedicine software program during drop-off appointments and surgical procedures to keep clients involved, stay off the phone and shorten the exam length.
Once you are comfortable with the ins and outs, consider offering at-home work hours for veterinarians and staff to do everything from remote consults to off-site client service representation. This includes chatting with clients and even remotely checking them in and out using a video conferencing platform.
2. Maintain Social Distancing Inside the Clinic
Even while embracing curbside and remote work, the entire team can’t stay home, and many clinics are working to allow clients back inside the hospital. However, social distancing works to keep the COVID-19 virus contained.
While perfecting the use of telemedicine to create augmented exams for curbside clients, other implementations such as spaced-out lobby seating and directional signs that guide clients through the hospital can reduce interpersonal contact. Move computer stations farther apart so that staff are less inclined to congregate in small spaces. Consider labeling parking spots with numbers and instructions so that clients don’t have to flood phone lines and staff can locate them easily in the parking lot. Also think about adding a software program designed to organize wait times and alert clients when their pets are ready to be seen (such as those created for restaurants).
3. Leverage Collaborative Technology
Keeping track of COVID-19 safety practices is difficult as public health recommendations and state-mandated phases change almost daily. Use technology to improve communication between staff, whether it’s as simple as updating your email listservs or as high tech as an in-hospital communication system. Google Docs and Sheets can support multiple editors with instantaneous collaboration and are hugely practical. Daily communication groups using Google Hangouts allow client service representatives to communicate more effectively with each other and with remote staff. Other veterinary hospitals have found success communicating similarly with programs such as Slack.
While too many team Zoom meetings can become exhausting and time-consuming, make sure department heads and managers come together regularly to discuss pain points and ways to improve patient care, the client experience and team morale. While many problems might not have an immediate solution, listening and understanding goes a long way in retaining valuable staff and keeping the team feeling connected.
4. Keep Clients Updated
Policy changes are a whirlwind, and clients are struggling to keep up, too. Make efforts to update your social media pages and keep website information such as the hours of operation and appointment availability accurate.
When clients self-quarantine at home, the internet continues to function as a community gathering place. Alerting clients of new appointment openings, new procedures and telemedicine capabilities can be helpful when done with a new Facebook status or Instagram post, but consider using email listservs and automated texts to keep clients in the loop. LiveChat allows my hospital to communicate with clients through our website seven days a week. This has become a great way to use remote staff and allow flexible working schedules while relieving phone traffic and keeping clients informed.
5. Support Team Morale
There’s a reason all our emails now mention “this challenging time.” It’s been a stressful year, and we’re likely strapped in for the long haul. Maintaining a positive workplace culture and retaining great staff is more important now than ever, and addressing team morale is important.
Hold town-hall meetings so that staff can reflect on not only the difficulties but also the strengths this year has illuminated. Share between departments the thought processes behind policy changes, and the ethical and logistical struggles going on behind the scenes of every aspect of the hospital. Everyone is trying his or her best, so setting aside time to talk and gain perspective can help. It’s pretty cheesy, but consider a lighthearted game or a team-building exercise to get some laughter going. (We have heard it’s the best medicine.)
I’ve never been prouder of my colleagues than during the last few months. The COVID-19 crisis has changed veterinary medicine along with most other industries forever. Growing pains are a guarantee, but the only way to make this experience worthwhile is to learn more efficient, effective and ethical ways to do our jobs and continue to utilize them moving forward.
I am convinced that using technology to our advantage is the best way to take client care to the next level, worldwide pandemic or not. A veterinary professional’s main job is to solve problems, and we are all up to the task.