Kaylee Roberts is a software sales executive on Qtrac’s national sales team. She has expertise in configuring and selling virtual queuing solutions to leading organizations across the globe.Read Articles Written by Kaylee Roberts
A trip to an emergency veterinary hospital is often stressful for pets and their owners. A long, undefined wait in the lobby only makes the stress worse. Besides potentially diminishing the level of care that animals receive, the wait also can leave pet owners with a negative impression, decreasing the possibility that they return to the practice for emergency care, checkups, outpatient procedures and anything else that generates revenue. In other words, long emergency waits are bad for business.
Unfortunately, long waits sometimes are unavoidable in this age of tight labor and increased pet ownership. The challenge then becomes: How do animal hospitals provide the best client experience possible when circumstances conspire against employees, pets and clients? The answer: virtual queuing technology, which allows veterinary providers to reduce chaos, create efficiency and, most importantly, improve care.
The concept is straightforward: Upon arrival, pet owners check into a digital system via SMS, a QR code, a computer kiosk or a front-desk employee. The clients then receive smartphone updates notifying them of wait times and alerting them when they’re ready to be seen.
Although virtual queuing is most often associated with retail businesses, restaurants and government organizations, such as the DMV, its potential in the emergency veterinary space is starting to be fully realized. The benefits are too impactful to ignore.
Estimated Waits in Real Time
Perhaps the most unnerving part of an ER visit — aside from the trauma that necessitated the visit — is the wait in the lobby. While the minutes tick by, pets can become more agitated in their crates or while sitting near other restless animals. The chances of a bite or messy accident increase. Pet owners understandably feel more stress as they wonder, “Will we ever be seen?”
Virtual queuing systems deliver updates on estimated waits to clients’ smartphones, thus serving two critical purposes:
- Periodic alerts remove some of the uncertainty from the pet owners’ minds. They at least know, “Yes, this wait will take ‘X’ number of minutes.” When someone is already worried about their pet’s health, that bit of knowledge can offer a small but real measure of relief.
- Estimated wait times give pet owners control over how they wait. When they know, for example, that their pets won’t be seen for 45 minutes, they can leave the lobby and not worry about missing their turn in line. A pet owner could return to the car, take the dog for a walk, get a cup of coffee, or do something that isn’t sitting and waiting. Often, the wait seems shorter — even if it isn’t — and the client can focus more on the pet.
Veterinary hospitals are businesses, but they are still compassionately committed to the well-being of patients. If the hospitals can’t provide timely emergency care, they might not mind diverting pet owners to another clinic that can. Virtual queuing can help make it happen.
Consider, for example, a dog that is vomiting but isn’t in too much distress in the lobby. The pet owner enters the details at the time of check-in. The system, recognizing the bottleneck of patients and the less-urgent nature of the visit, can automatically check the waits at affiliated hospitals (using the same digital queuing system) and suggest, via a message to the pet owner’s phone, going to another clinic that will await their arrival.
Although alternate options might not be feasible for some injuries and illnesses, traveling to a different hospital for the treatment of a minor ailment might be more efficient for the client and provider.
A digital queuing system can be configured to flag unique needs and direct animals where they will get the best care.
Better Use of Resources
Labor remains tight in the veterinary space. Amid the workforce crisis, emergency animal hospitals must make the most of their resources to retain veterinary technicians and front-desk employees, prevent burnout, and ensure the highest quality of care. Figuring out efficiency can be tricky, but virtual queuing technology can help.
The best digital queuing software gathers reams of data that help practices assess and adjust operations in real time and in the long term. For starters, the system can help with triage, identifying which animals might need more immediate care while alerting practice managers, for example, whether they should move someone off the front desk or call in additional help. Furthermore, with the software handling most of the queue responsibilities, staff members are freed up to better attend to pets and their owners.
Once pet owners check into the queuing system, they remain in it, and a practice may send tailored messages straight to their phones. Client surveys also can be sent, giving hospitals vital intelligence on how the service went.
Digital queuing technology helps pets in other ways. For example, as pets and owners wait, the system can ask the client for additional information, such as special needs, the date of the last visit, the pets’ medical history and so on. Besides helping pass the time for clients, the digital interactions give staff members valuable intel so they can deliver care almost immediately after the pet is brought to an exam room. Also, waiting owners can ask questions via the queuing system.
Furthermore, digital queuing software can send smartphone updates after the ER visit, such as reminders for follow-up appointments, at-home care instructions and prescription information. Often, this strategy is more effective than a phone call, which pulls busy staff away from other duties and might not get picked up by the recipient, and an email, which could end up in a spam folder.
No matter what animal hospitals do, long waits sometimes are inevitable. However, with care and communication at the heart of virtual queuing’s goals, pet owners are more apt to feel that their needs and their pets’ are being prioritized.