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7 everyday ways to adapt veterinary practice during the pandemic

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Veterinary practices continue to adapt as the COVID-19 situation develops in their communities.

  1. Prioritize appointments

Some practices now prioritize urgent and sick-pet visits over wellness visits—except in the case of puppies and kittens on vaccination schedules. Priorities include putting off routine surgeries to conserve supplies and personal protective equipment.

See AAHA’s Coronavirus Resource Center for sample language explaining such changes.

  1. Communicate new protocols to clients

Many practices shifted to a curbside model where:

  • Clients call from the parking lot on arrival.
  • Team members shuttle pets to the facility and back.
  • Clients stay in their cars.
  • Conversations happen by phone as needed.

When making this shift, client communication strategies may include:

  • Explaining the change when appointments get made
  • Emailing all clients about the process
  • Posting on social media about the change
  • Coaching clients on the process again on arrival
  • Sharing periodic updates on social media about how well team members and clients are partnering to limit close contact while still providing great care to pets
  1. Set appropriate exceptions to new protocols

Choose exceptions that fit your comfort level. Some practices have established new euthanasia protocols. Others offer exceptions for critical cases, puppies or kittens, or other patients for Fear Free reasons.

Kathy Sheehan recently drove 18 hours to pick up her 10-week-old border collie, Roadie. At his first appointment at AAHA-accredited Fort Hunt Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, they gave Sheehan the option of coming inside for the appointment.

“I was really touched by the kindness in the offer, but I knew right away that my answer was no,” Sheehan says. “There are puppies who will truly need the person they trust on the first visit.” Sheehan knew hers would do fine without her there, however. “I appreciated that they trusted me not to take advantage of the choice.”

Sheehan reported afterwards: “The visit went great. There were quite a few patients in the parking lot. While I will always prefer to be there, I came away feeling just as informed as when I was there.”

  1. Handle deliveries and lab samples

Some practices no longer allow delivery workers into their facilities. New protocols include:

  • Having delivery drivers leave boxes just outside the door
  • Donning gloves to carry and unpack boxes
  • Spraying all boxes with disinfectant and waiting for them to dry before opening—even though porous/fibrous surfaces are thought to transmit the virus less than smooth ones

Some hospitals also have started putting all lab samples in the outside pick-up boxes, even when practices are open, so that the lab’s drivers don’t come inside.

  1. Shift hours of operation

To help prevent burnout and provide additional disinfection time, some practices have shortened their hours of operation.

Broad Ripple Animal Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, will be closed the next two Sundays. Hospital Administrator Amber Taylor, BS, CVMP, RVT, explains, “We are only open on Sundays for a short period of time (10 am–2 pm). We were looking to limit our appointment hours over the next two weeks and found that with the local 24-hour clinics remaining open at this time, we could limit our staff’s exposure by completely closing [on Sundays] and closing earlier than normal Monday through Saturday.”

  1. Solve problems together (even when it’s scary)

Taylor says, “We have tried to be proactive during this time. This includes being proactive with our staff. We send out daily updates to staff on policies [and] safety tips, and [we let] them know what we are working on next. This, in itself, has opened the door for communication throughout our organization. Team members are asking great questions, taking an active role in problem-solving, and thinking outside the box of ‘how we have always done things,’ thus creating an environment where we can feel comfortable coming into work each day.”

  1. Accept staff individual needs

In San Bernardino, California, with orders to shelter in place, Animal Care Wellness Center lets team members make individual decisions. “We have made it clear to staff that if they need to stay home, they may do so and not worry about losing their job,” says Niza DiCarlo, director of human resources. “We have one staff member in her sixties who lives with her 93-year-old mother. She requested to stay home indefinitely. We told her to stay home as long as she needs.”

AAHA will continue to provide timely information and practice advice, such as in the video below that highlights member tips and suggestions for maintaining healthy teams and practices amid COVID-19 concerns.

Photo credit: © iStock/ Liudmyla Chuhunova