COVID-19 has changed the face of many industries as businesses rethink their operations. While some have struggled to adapt to the changing needs of customers, veterinary medicine has seen innovative breakthroughs.
In particular, COVID-19 has accelerated changes to veterinary operations, digital products and services, allowing hospitals to deliver high-quality care more efficiently and safely. These improvements not only support veterinary professionals and pet owners during the pandemic, but they have the potential to revolutionize how we care for pets. Here are four examples.
We can learn a lot about telehealth from our counterparts in human medicine. Telehealth can help pet owners determine when their pet needs an in-person visit to a veterinarian, and it helps veterinary teams better care for pets proactively. According to a Banfield Pet Hospital study, 71% of pet owners turn to the internet instead of their veterinarian for veterinary advice and 90% of veterinarians worry that pet owners might unknowingly put their pet at more risk by taking bad online advice. Telehealth solutions permit pet owners to access reputable information from the comfort of their homes while ensuring that the information is accurate.
At a time when cities and states are advising people to keep in-person interactions to a minimum, telehealth services can help keep veterinary teams and clients safe. We are seeing virtual services having an even greater impact as regions continue to issue stay-at-home directives and social distancing guidelines. In fact, at the pandemic’s peak, Banfield saw an over 150% increase in activity on our telehealth service, Vet Chat, which allows pet owners to connect with a veterinarian anytime day or night on a mobile device or desktop computer. But more importantly, we’ve heard from clients that they want to continue telehealth services even after the pandemic.
Credentialed Veterinary Technician Appointments
Similar to how human patients often see a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner for a check-up, pets can sometimes be seen by a credentialed veterinary technician for routine needs. These appointments enable credentialed veterinary technicians to utilize their full skill sets to deliver certain types of care.
When the pandemic hit, Banfield knew it could rely on our credentialed veterinary technicians to help ensure that pets got the care they needed. When many states and jurisdictions limited the extent of care that could be provided early in the pandemic, we saw that some preventive care services were delayed or missed. Additionally, with so many new pets joining households during this time, we saw and continue to see a large demand for preventive care services typical for a new pet.
By empowering credentialed veterinary technicians, we create more capacity for veterinarians and ensure that pets get the important preventive care they deserve.
Many U.S. veterinary practices have instituted curbside drop-offs for social distancing purposes and to align with local or state requirements and recommendations. This process can offer more than health and safety benefits during the pandemic. It also can create efficiencies that allow medical teams to provide quality care for more pets.
Curbside drop-offs provide natural opportunities for hospital teams to learn new ways to communicate with clients. Having discussions about care needs and payment over the phone can be challenging, but it also can be quite effective. This new way of working gives veterinary teams the time and space needed to ensure a full workup for each pet and the time to discuss findings and recommendations with the client, whether by phone or electronically.
COVID-19 accelerated the industry’s adoption of digital tools to serve pet owners’ changing preferences, including solutions that decrease wait times and allow for customized care. Digital sign-ins and checkouts are ideal for social distancing and the sharing of documents and pictures. There’s also been growth in the use of online pharmacies.
The pandemic has forced us all to think differently. While many of these innovations were focused on the short-term priority of protecting the health and well-being of hospital teams and clients, we’re finding that these short-term solves are evolving into long-term changes in how veterinarians run hospitals and interact with clients.
COVID-19 has made it clear that the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Pets are helping owners during a stressful time. Because of this, the veterinary industry needs to be ready to come out stronger after the pandemic to meet the changing needs of today’s pet owners.
Dr. Molly McAllister is Banfield Pet Hospital’s chief medical officer.