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Business , COVID-19 , News

Chapter 3: Tales from the COVID-19 front lines

Last week was difficult for practice owners and veterinary teams. The federal CARES Act could be a financial lifeline for some hospitals.

Chapter 3: Tales from the COVID-19 front lines

This week: For the most part, business is not booming at veterinary practices. The vast majority of hospitals remain open during the COVID-19 crisis, but many are postponing non-emergency services and some have reduced their hours, if not their staffs.

Read other installments in this series:
Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7
Chapter 8  Chapter 9  Chapter 10  Chapter 11
 Chapter 12  Chapter 13  Chapter 14  Chapter 15


Take Charge columnist and Charleston, South Carolina, practice manager Abby Suiter, MBA, CVPM

We spent the past week waiting on test results for two symptomatic employees and evaluating the options to best respond if either returned positive for COVID-19. The circumstances forced us to the next level of sanitation standards and served as a revelation for those employees who had not yet taken the situation seriously enough.

In the meantime, our city elevated restrictions to a two-week stay-at-home ordinance in which veterinary services have no limitation. However, we felt compelled to encourage our clients to postpone elective and non-time-sensitive services until the ordinance is lifted. While voluntarily throttling down business is a tough financial decision to make, we feel it is our civic responsibility to help the community’s effort to further minimize unnecessary interactions.

The self-imposed slowdown came as a bit of relief from the hectic patient schedule we faced the week before and allowed us to improve our curbside logistics, technology leveraging and creative customer service offerings. When we choose to allow full wellness scheduling again, we will be better prepared for busy, high-demand days over the duration of the pandemic.

Test results for our employees were returned over the weekend. Both negative!


Politics & Policy columnist, Animal Policy Group founding partner and Today’s Veterinary Business editorial adviser Mark Cushing, JD

I live in the world of pet health care and veterinary education policy as well as regulatory decisions in all 50 states. The past two weeks were a whirlwind on this front until last Friday, March 27, and then the states seemed to pause. I’m referring to the governors and state veterinary medical boards.

The toughest of the issues and potential threats to veterinary care appear to be behind us. What do I mean? States are not declaring veterinary clinics to be non-essential businesses. States are not ordering veterinary clinics to surrender all their personal protection equipment to human hospitals, mainly because alternative suppliers are emerging throughout the U.S. Although there’s still some confusion, states and local governments are not ordering veterinarians to stop providing services other than emergency surgeries.

I’m not applauding this state of affairs because it’s good for the veterinary profession and pet health care — which it is — but because it confirms that policymakers understand that pets matter, that their health care cannot be postponed for weeks or months, and, yes, that wellness care is not a luxury or non-essential.

We faced a danger two weeks ago of issues being positioned as human health versus pet health. That’s a false argument, and so far we’ve navigated around it.

Telemedicine demand in human health care has spurred demand for telehealth in veterinary care. We’re learning a lot, and states have relaxed fears that veterinarians will get in trouble if they use telemedicine tools to help clients and patients who do not want to visit the clinic.

The challenge now is managing the revenue and labor impacts of a prolonged slowdown or quarantine. I’ll leave those prognostications to others.


Veterinary industry consultant and Southern California Veterinary Medical Association executive director Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA

What is starting to become clear is that nobody really knows what to do with their veterinary teams. At first, everybody tried to stay busy in the new (ab)normal. But as things have slowed for some practices, difficult questions are coming up. Or as staff members start to worry about exposure, more and more are taking disability leave or scaling back because of anxiety and panic. Do you lay off people, do you furlough, do you fire, do you just shut the doors?  There are more questions than answers right now. And of course, how do you make these decisions without disrupting the practice culture and the team that has been together for a while?

I have had some queries about hazard pay. While watching what Whole Foods, Costco and other grocery stores have done, it is easy to think that working in these conditions constitutes a hazard. Additionally, associates and paraprofessional staff have commented on cavalier attitudes by doctors and an effort to see as many clients as possible even in the face of the shelter-at-home environment, the recommendation to only provide essential care and the increasingly difficult time getting PPE. When a veterinarian is made aware of the guidelines, it is perceived by some employees to have fallen on deaf ears and in one case led to a DVM being terminated.

All in all, practices have changed to meet the social-distancing suggestions. From curbside check-in, to no clients in the physical hospital to telemedicine, most practices are changing to meet the times. And in most cases, it is not business as usual. For more than 35% of the hospitals in a non-scientific study in Southern California, revenues are down more than 25% compared with the same period last year. Fully two-thirds are down in revenue to one degree or another.

In my role as executive director of the Southern California VMA, I will note that every member of the association is impacted and concerned. Our veterinary student and tech student members are being taught virtually with limited or no laboratory access and thus limited hands-on opportunities.

Our industry supporters cannot visit practices and are doing Zoom lunch and learns, conference calls and virtual check-ins. They are being impacted by inventory controls as an expense control, moves to online pharmacy resources and fewer people visiting practices.

Paraprofessional staff members, licensed technicians, managers, client service and animal care employees are dealing with minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day disruption as well as the risk of exposure, a loss of predictability and job uncertainty. The stress and anxiety levels for everybody on the team are at new highs in a profession already dealing with mental health challenges.

The professional team — owners and associates, generalists and specialists — is having their malleability pushed to the limits. They are conducting exams via phones and computers, and determining which cases are emergent, emergency, important, really important or totally unnecessary.

We have gone from a very strong, concrete foundation with little motivation to change to a quicksand foundation on a high-risk fault line with a tornado bearing down on us. The only way to survive is to change quickly, make mistakes and try again. Survival will be based upon the ability to change. To quote Darwin: “It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

Essential skills needed to survive these days include leadership, communication, resiliency, fluidity, concern, empathy, communication, cash-flow management, team building, motivation, and — did I say it? — communication.

[Check out the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association’s COVID-19 survey results at https://bit.ly/2WUcbU1.]


North American Veterinary Community chief veterinary officer Dana Varble, DVM

The news is changing rapidly. Clinic visits and revenue are down, and clinics are reducing hours.

The biggest stressor is that many veterinarians are laying off huge portions of their staffs. Many are being advised that layoffs are preferable to decreased hours so that employees can get unemployment and other benefits that may be available.

Splitting the entire clinic staff into teams is being done in many places so that if one staff member gets ill, only the team is forced into quarantine, not the entire staff.

There are stories of clinics in the hardest-hit areas closing completely due to a lack of appointments, illness among staff and child care concerns. Clinics in some areas have teamed up to split days, shifts and caseloads among several practices.

Stress is high. In a profession with high stress already, that is a major concern.


Beyond Indigo Pets president and Today’s Veterinary Business editorial adviser Kelly Baltzell, MA

I am seeing hospitals emerge from crisis mode into more long-term planning. People are figuring out how they can be open for business and convey that to their pet owners. Plus, as new hospitals enter lockdown, there are now tips, tricks and tools gathered and learned from hospitals that entered lockdown before them. What hospitals need to do is:

  • Communicate with pet owners on all mediums where people look. This would be the practice website, social media and Google.
  • Keep an eye on Google and Facebook. The services offered by these digital giants change constantly as they adjust to the outbreak. For example, Google announced it will be giving small businesses ad credits to help them through this time. [Learn more at https://tcrn.ch/3dHP6Kv.]

Facebook is being slow to approve ads because of the volume and because of the terms being used by veterinarians that are similar to pet health. My company covered the topic on Facebook Live at https://bit.ly/3bIpEml.


San Diego veterinarian, author and speaker Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, CVJ

Last week, the media picked up on the FDA’s removing the requirement of an in-person exam for the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Unfortunately, those articles rarely explained that state regulations take precedence, so this isn’t a national change in policy. That being said, it’s certainly a signal that states are likely headed in that direction. It’s really confusing, even for people following the situation.

Truth be told, the people already implementing telehealth and telemedicine services have been plenty busy with clients for whom a VCPR already exists, so those regulations don’t matter nearly as much as people think they do.

In another bellwether moment, Michigan’s governor mandated that veterinarians stop performing non-essential in-person services and then she defined exactly what those services are. It is no longer recommended but required. I’d strongly encourage veterinarians to anticipate that their states may do the same and to come up with a plan now so that they are ready to take care of non-emergency issues remotely.


VetSuccess CEO and founder Martin Traub-Werner

Stay-at-home orders for U.S. citizens continued last week, and veterinary practices certainly felt the impact. Overall, VetSuccess data from more than 2,500 U.S. veterinary practices showed a significant drop in both revenue and invoices each day last Monday through Saturday, March 23 to 28.

Year-over-year daily average revenue per practice was down 17% nationwide, compared to being up 3% the previous week. It’s interesting to note that larger practices — those with at least $1.5 million in annual gross revenue — were down 20% in revenue compared to smaller practices, which were down 13%.

Not including home-delivery data, pharmacy revenue was up 1.5%, whereas over-the-counter and diet revenue was down 11% and professional services revenue was down 19%.

Year-over-year daily average invoices per practice were down 19% nationwide, compared with being up 1.5% the previous week. Larger practices were down 20% after being essentially flat the previous week. Smaller practices were down 15% after being up.

The top three states with the most significant year-over-year change in invoices were Illinois, which was down 35.5%; New Jersey, down 30%; and Massachusetts, down 29%.

[Check out the VetSuccess Veterinary Industry Impact Tracker at https://bit.ly/3afxUd0.]


Saint Francis Veterinary Center of South Jersey area business manager Mark Magazu, JD, MPA

COVID-19 challenges our industry to adapt in immediate and dramatic ways to offer health care to pets while preventing the spread of contagion. Given that this crisis may last for months, our challenge is made even more difficult because the decisions we make today can affect our ability to offer services and maintain our workforce down the road.

At Saint Francis Veterinary Center of South Jersey, which sees more than 40,000 patient visits per year and employs over 100 people, our approach has been multifaceted. At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, our leadership focused on the following questions:

1. What is the timeline over which we may be operating with COVID-19?

We decided to assume the worst, that this will be with us for months, so any decisions we make are evaluated based on their possible impact on the long-term sustainability of the operation. Our goal was to pave a pathway forward that minimized the impact on staff, jobs and benefits to the greatest extent possible. We wanted to avoid making reactive decisions that would have unanticipated consequences to our ability to function in the months ahead.

2. Is it possible to offer services and protect our staff at the same time?

Adaptations like curbside service can limit non-staff from entering the building. Advances in telemedicine allow us to communicate easily and inexpensively with clients in real time. And simple adaptations like enhanced use of phone and text communications are all helpful to establish open channels of communication with clients who must make decisions for their pet while not coming inside the hospital. The answer is yes. We can offer services while keeping staff safe.

3. Can we effectively communicate with the pet-owning public at large to establish expectations that will facilitate these adaptations?

The structure of message delivery must be coordinated, even while the message itself may change over time. Websites, social media, community page updates, advertisements on social media and information-sharing with civic organizations all are elements of a broad-based, inexpensive and comprehensive methodology for communication. We have found we can reach pet owners at a minimal expense, while educating the local populations effectively.

Saint Francis has implemented the following:

  • A video that has been uploaded to almost all relevant web pages, social media and paid advertisements to visually explain what client expectations must be when visiting our hospitals.
  • A wait-list software that allows clients to remotely check in, see their place in line, receive automated messages with information throughout their visit, and chat in real time. This feature allows them to participate in real time during their pet’s visit.
  • An easy, comprehensive remote check-in and authorization process through our homepage that eliminates direct contact between staff and pet owners but maximizes the information we receive for each case.
  • Telemedicine platforms, some advanced and others simple, to allow pet owners to “visit” their pet without coming into the building.

To date, we can operate so that revenues are consistent, which appears at this time to be sustainable over the long term without necessitating layoffs, payroll cuts and other budgetary cutbacks.


Crum & Forster Pet Insurance Group assistant vice president of veterinary relations Wendy Hauser, DVM

What will the new normal be? In the past week, I have spoken with many people from all different professions. There is a growing recognition that COVID-19 has forced the business community to morph how it does its work. For veterinary professionals, this has catalyzed the business side of veterinary medicine to do something unprecedented, which is change. This change has occurred very quickly and has impacted many of the areas of hospital operations that have been status quo for years. The question that is on everyone’s mind is, “How will this impact our businesses once government mandates and the need to socially distance has passed?”

What can hospital leadership do now to capitalize on the positive changes? Here are three ideas.

1. Recognize what a positive change is by conducting critical week-end autopsies.

Ask your teams what is working well and what could be better. This should be asked at least weekly to help identify small pain points that can be easily addressed and to understand what business evolutions are working well. Relevant areas include client service, telemedicine and technology, such as history forms that clients email to you complete prior to the visit and new ways to process payments.

2. Pay attention to the culture of your practice.

I have heard many reports of teams working together more efficiently than ever and with compassion and understanding toward everyone. I have also heard of teams that have completely unraveled under the stress of COVID-19 because of fears for their own health and their loved ones’ and because of financial fears.

Knowing that your team members have your back has never been more important. Try this short activity: At the beginning of each workday, have a brief team huddle — use appropriate distances — to discuss what each person is emotionally bringing to work each day. These fast, short huddles are designed to allow everyone to emotionally connect and understand what is impacting the emotional health of each person and how those emotions influence interactions. Teammates can support each other, cut others a little slack when needed, and express empathy, compassion and kindness.

3. Conduct scenario planning and a pre-mortem.

These activities will help you to anticipate possible outcomes of COVID-19 and its impact on our businesses in the near term and over the next one to three years. A great webinar to understand how to use these skills can be found at https://bit.ly/347rXNf.

[What else can hospitals do to weather the COVID-19 storm today and into the future? Drs. Wendy Hauser, Kathleen Cooney and Lori Kogan and Gina Fortunato of Crum & Forster Pet Insurance will lead a free town hall at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 2. The session will be hosted by VetVine. More information is available at http://bit.ly/VVCovid.]


Veterinary industry consultant Karen E. Felsted, DVM, CPA, MS, CVPM, CVA

Over the last couple of weeks, practices have been focused on protecting the health of their clients and employees, adapting their operations so that they can continue to offer patient care, and figuring out how to stay in business.

Another aspect of our world that will no doubt be impacted by COVID-19 is the sale and purchase of veterinary practices. I think it’s a little early to understand the full impact, but some early questions include:

  • Will we still have as many corporate purchasers when this is all done or will some get out of the market?
  • Will corporate prices remain as high as they are? Seems likely to me that they will decline.
  • Will the corporate practice purchases currently in the pipeline go through? I’ve heard rumblings that some transactions have been put on hold and may be renegotiated.
  • Will individual practice buyers go through with their transactions? At least a couple I know of are on pause.
  • Will lenders tighten up what they are willing to lend to individual buyers?

I don’t think we’ve seen drastic changes in the market yet, but I think they will come if the virus results in a significant economic downturn.


Veterinary industry consultant Debbie Boone, CVPM

As we continue dealing with COVID-19, restrictions have grown tighter in many areas of the country as positive cases rise.

Veterinary practices are being affected in multiple ways. VetSuccess shared data from the more than 2,500 hospitals in its client base to show that some cities, such as New York, are seeing revenue drop as much as 23% in services volume compared with last year, while data in other cities shows practices are only down a few points.

As for online pharmacy sales, VetSource is seeing huge increases in orders, so much so that the company is hiring licensed pharmacy techs to handle the volume. Covetrus recently said it had a 45% increase in online pharmacy and food delivery demand.

VitusVet shared some customer data. The company has seen a huge increase in medication requests as clients stock up, and it reported that appointment requests are being made for weeks out rather than the typical days out. This appointment information is heartening because it shows a delay in care rather than a cancellation of care. The VitusVet platform also shows a significant decline in record sharing with boarding and grooming providers. So, people are listening and sheltering in place.

Practices continue to be creative in their approach to exams. One practice allows clients to view the exam through the outside window.

Telemedicine continues to jump in use as state boards scramble to update their practice acts or offer temporary directives to help hospitals deal with physical distancing.

Layoffs are starting, and managers are working to understand the new rules of the stimulus package.

[The VitusVet Industry Pulse platform is updated each Monday. Check it out at https://bit.ly/2XJc4vh.]


The Vet Recruiter founder and CEO Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS

My company’s clients are still interviewing candidates for open positions. For the most part, our clients are doing a phone interview, followed by a video interview, usually on Zoom. Then, when both parties feel comfortable, they are meeting in person. Some of the face-to-face interviews have been pushed out four to eight weeks, but not all of them.

Last week, a veterinarian drove 19 hours to do an interview and then drove 19 hours home. She is planning to relocate to take the position. Another candidate who lives in the Northeast accepted an offer in Texas. She is packing up right now and is about to move. Last week, we had a client do only a phone interview, no video interview, with our candidate, and he plans to make a job offer.

Most of my client practices are still open for business. Our clients continue to meet patients in the parking lot and are having the owners stay in their cars.


Getting Technical columnist, practice management consultant and Patterson Veterinary University instructor Sandy Walsh, RVT, CVPM

This past week has been much the same as the previous two, but practices are getting better at it. More practices are limiting themselves to ongoing medical cases and non-routine services, with the continued exception of initial vaccine boosters for puppies and kittens. Routine surgeries continue to be postponed, but advanced dentistry is being offered in many practices.

Some of the smaller practices have closed temporarily and are referring all cases to emergency practices. Others are limiting their hours of operation.

Staffing levels are being adjusted to match the workload, and many hospitals are using this time to get caught up on deferred maintenance and staff training. Shifts have been shortened and staggered for employees rather than hours eliminated completely. Employees are staying home if they or someone in their household has been exposed to COVID-19 or isn’t feeling well. Other employees are stepping up to pick up hours wherever they can. I am witnessing some amazing teamwork and camaraderie.

For the most part, clients are very understanding of the enhanced safety precautions. They are grateful that we are open and appreciative of the safety precautions being taken. Many practices continue curbside concierge service, where clients are asked to stay in their car. The patients are taken into the hospital by technicians in protective gear. Doctor communication with these clients is primarily by phone. Practices that allow clients inside are adhering to social-distancing guidelines and allow only one client to enter at a time.

The availability of personal protection equipment has not been an issue in the practices I work with. Limiting routine surgeries and using cloth gowns has helped maintain the quantities on hand, and practices are able to place orders when needed. Cleaning and sanitizing efforts continue.

The financial impact is starting to weigh heavily on practice owners as visits decline dramatically. These practices are doing their best to generate revenue and control inventory and operating costs. Everyone is looking forward to the end of this economic crisis.


Veterinary industry consultant and Today’s Veterinary Business editorial adviser Fritz Wood

My overall message is this: Keep people on the payroll, and communicate with your teams and clients.

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes $349 billion for small businesses, which are generally defined as having fewer than 500 employees. The package guarantees a loan equal to 2½ times payroll if you use the money to pay employees. If you laid people off, bring them back with the exception of poor performers, troublemakers and malcontents. The loan is forgivable if used for payroll, rent and utilities.

Communicating with staffers is your first priority, even if you have no news to share. They need to know you hear and understand their concerns and believe that you have their best interests at heart. If you anticipate laying off staff or cutting hours and you know of companies in a hiring mode, share that information. When normal operations resume, former employees may return if they remember your willingness to help them in times of crisis.

Don’t forget to communicate with your clients. This is your best opportunity since 9/11 to engender long-term client loyalty and goodwill.

I recommend creating best, worst and most likely financial scenarios for you and your practice. Focus on these questions:

  • How much do you estimate gross income will change over the next one, three and six months? What about your personal take-home pay?
  • Which costs do you control? How much can you change them? How quickly?
  • When might you run out of cash and inventory? Do you have any trade partners with whom you could barter to conserve cash?
  • Where will the money come from? During sunnier days, practices should have established a line of credit, and homeowners a home equity line of credit. Hopefully, large unused balances remain on those lines today.

Projecting financial results for the next few months requires some guesswork, but the exercise will uncover vulnerabilities, giving you time to act. Avoid big, bad financial surprises at all costs.

While Washington has produced a relief package that might lift some of the financial stress, some business owners are turning to loans administered by the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Program through a section known as Economic Injury Disaster Loans. In order to qualify for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a business must prove substantial economic injury, meaning it is unable to pay its ordinary and necessary operating expenses. The purpose of the loan is to help a business ride out a disaster period until normal operations can resume. It applies to situations where there is no physical damage. Businesses can secure up to $2 million, but loan amounts are based on actual economic injury.

According to the SBA, the interest rate on the loans will not exceed 4% per year and terms will not exceed 30 years.


Cara Veterinary co-founder and President Peter Brown, DVM

With the state of Washington going into full stay-at-home orders last week, our hospitals saw a dramatic drop in visits and revenue. All non-emergency and non-essential cases were postponed to limit traffic and exposure. In addition, most families have adapted a policy of only leaving home if they absolutely must.

We have not made any staffing changes, and we are utilizing the time to educate the team and complete projects that are difficult to do normally.

Client relations are solid. Pet owners are happy we are open. I have seen some clinics in the area that shortened hours and closed some days. I know of some clinics in the U.K. that closed.

We have a decent amount of personal protection equipment in stock. We pivoted to follow AVMA guidelines for conserving PPE. There has been no difficulty in getting supplies, except for toilet paper.

With Washington being the first state hit with COVID-19, there is some optimism that the rate of spread appears to be starting to slow. We may be getting close to a plateau.

The key to getting through this is taking each day one at a time, understanding the stress your team and clients are experiencing, and having great communication. This is a new challenge for all of us. I am confident we will get through this together as a profession and a society.


Veterinary nurse and National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America President Kenichiro Yagi, MS, RVT, VTS (ECC) (SAIM)

“We stay here for your pets. Please stay home for us!” is a message that describes perfectly how veterinary technicians and nurses continue to answer the call today. Veterinary teams around the world are showing up to work every day to care for their patients and meet the demands of pet owners needing emergency care.

Organizations like NAVTA, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association issued statements urging government agencies to include veterinary practices as essential businesses. This seems to have been effective as states going into lockdown have included veterinary practices as essential businesses. On the flip side of all this, work shifts of 65 hours a week are not unheard of as many veterinary technicians and nurses, especially in emergency practices, pull tremendous hours to keep up with the demand.

As we, compassionate professionals, continue to self-sacrifice for pets and their families while experiencing stresses of our own, paying close attention to our mental well-being will become important. Peer-to-peer support is emerging. Virtual social hours hosted by support groups and associations allow people to converse with those experiencing the same challenges.

The level of support reaches beyond the veterinary medical field as we start to see equipment, especially mechanical ventilators, being drafted into human medical care. Knowledge from the human medical field, such as inventive ways in which a single ventilator can be used for multiple patients, is creating intrigue in the emergency and critical care field.

The pandemic is bringing the two fields even closer together. We are in this together, and we will pull through together.


North Carolina veterinarian, speaker, consultant and Today’s Veterinary Business editorial adviser Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT

Last week, COVID-19 mutated from inconvenience to existential threat for many veterinary professionals. Veterinary clinics across the nation are facing mandatory restrictions imposed by health authorities, which in some cases has meant limiting services to emergencies and critical follow-up care.

While many clinics are utilizing curbside care, the initial surge of demand is beginning to slow as pet owners become increasingly worried about their jobs and finances.

Many support staff are telling me they are worried about contracting COVID-19 from clients or co-workers, and they cite the lack of adequate personal protection equipment and training as their biggest complaints. Others question the ethics of being told by a boss to call past-due clients to come in for annual immunizations when their county or state is instructing people to stay at home. In general, I’m hearing a large number of worried support staff who fear they must choose to risk coronavirus infection and potentially transmit it to loved ones.

I think the coronavirus response spectrum continues to be polarized within the veterinary community, reflecting what we’re seeing nationwide. Some veterinary clinics view the crisis as a big-city problem that isn’t affecting their rural community and they’re open for business, albeit with a few new protocols. Others have voluntarily closed in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 nationwide and reduce risk to their support staff and clients.

What’s surprising is that despite it being nearly four months since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., there still doesn’t seem to be a unifying consensus of the scope, depth or response within the veterinary profession. This has created a nationwide patchwork of recommendations, with some clinics continuing to perform nail trims while others delay treating all but life-threatening conditions. Veterinary medicine cares for a tremendous number of species, hosts a variety of specialties and bears significant responsibility for public health. I believe COVID-19 can help remind the public of the value and importance of veterinarians around the world if we take bold stands for both the present and future responses in the name of One Health.

Finally, all U.S. small business owners, including veterinary practice owners, should take full advantage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. I’m told this will be on a first-come, first-served basis, so I advise all owners to contact their accountant or financial adviser immediately. In essence, this is a two-month financial gift that could cover staff salaries, benefits and rent. There are many details yet to emerge, but my best advice is to get started on determining if you qualify for the CARES Act or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The following two weeks will see veterinarians scramble to duct-tape together a telemedicine strategy. Many of us are working and advocating for a telemedicine solution to help U.S. and U.K. veterinarians.

I believe one of the lasting legacies of this pandemic will be the widespread deployment and acceptance of veterinary telemedicine. In the short term, it will help clinics bridge the relationship and care gap and maintain revenues. In the long term, it will redefine what a patient-doctor relationship can be and expand the reach of veterinary medicine to a larger client and patient base.


Creative Disruption columnist and WellHaven Pet Health chief medical officer Bob Lester, DVM

COVID-19 week three proved to be even crazier than weeks one and two. The good news is that we’re all coming to grips with the new normal. Our profession has wisely been designated an essential service. Think Hurricane Katrina to consider the consequences of not prioritizing pets. Society has recognized that our profession provides critical infrastructure for both public and animal health.

In uncertain times, faced with so much out of our control, the one thing we can control is how we respond. Take a deep breath and be good to yourself. We are being forced to make decisions on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis, something we’ve never faced before. In times like these, it’s good to have a north star to look to.

My north star? Let me explain in four ways.

  • First, keep ourselves, teams and clients healthy. Healthy physically, emotionally, professionally and financially.
  • Second, we took an oath to serve the public and animal health. Now more than ever, people and pets need us.
  • Third, we’ve been directed to spare personal protection equipment in support of human health care professionals.
  • Lastly, we’re consequently asked to use our best professional judgment to determine what procedures are essential and what are not. Doing this spares PPE.

The past few weeks brought lots of discussions about essential versus non-essential. I’m sure this week will, too. Urgent care is essential. Preventive care is essential — think rabies, Lepto, Lyme, hookworms, roundworms. A dental when the pet is in pain is essential. Spaying a 4-month-old dog or cat is not essential. I trust the professional judgment of my colleagues.

As Americans turn inward to home and hearth, their pets have never been more important. Pets are providing the unconditional love, connection and stability that we all crave in tough times. Our profession has come together for them like never before. I’ve never been prouder to be a veterinary professional.

So, safeguard the well-being of yourself, your team and your clients. Be there for pets and families. Spare PPE as much as possible. Use your best professional judgment to determine what is essential and what is not. Take a deep breath, be kind to yourself, exercise self-care.

Books and case studies will be written for years to come on the decisions made and not made during this time. We don’t have to be perfect. What we are doing is important. You make a difference.

We will get through this, stronger than before.


We want to hear from you: How has the COVID-19 emergency affected you, your practice or your veterinary business? Email editor Ken Niedziela at [email protected].


Did you know a subscription to Today’s Veterinary Business is free to qualified veterinary professionals? All you have to do is sign up here (and renew each year). You also can sign up to receive the Today’s Veterinary Business weekly e-newsletter.

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