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Pandemic conversations: Economic predictions, technology, and staffing challenges

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The veterinary profession continues to adapt on the fly to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

Economic predictions

This week, Packaged Facts (PF) released a pet market bulletin, providing initial assessments of the economic impacts of COVID-19.

“Assuming a best-case scenario of a short but sharp socio-economic impact [in the first half of 2020],” the bulletin forecasts:

  • Nonmedical pet care services will take the biggest hit.
  • Veterinary telemedicine will see a big boost.
  • Supply chain products and supplies shortages may affect veterinarians.
  • Consumables, including prescriptions, will see a short-term bump as consumers stock-up now. The bulletin warns, however, to watch for drops in feline heartworm preventive purchases when budgets get tighter as the pandemic wears on.

PF researchers believe the recovery from earlier crises offer important insights, adding “[Our] ongoing surveys of pet owners further show that they are not quick to the trigger in adjusting their pet product spending.”

Technology

Veterinary practices are flocking to technology, including two-way texting and video telemedicine, to continue serving clients. Technology providers are racing to keep up.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the last week in inquiries from veterinary professionals interested in the telemedicine solutions offered by our free PetPro Connect service, which links veterinarians and pet owners by video and text, allowing them to communicate remotely,” says Mark Bixler with Boehringer Ingelheim.

The company introduced PetPro Connect in several states in 2019. Last week, they made it available across the country to meet increased demand.

They are not alone. Patrick Nelson, senior account executive with Zipwhip, says “We’re seeing an uptick in the number of clinics reaching out to us to text enable their lines. And given the urgency of the crisis, they want to do it immediately. Many times, we’ll sign up a new veterinary customer and get them texting within the same day.”

He adds, “And since our software can be used on any computer or mobile device, employees currently working from home can continue to communicate with customers via text, even if they’re not in the clinic or hospital.”

And, PetDesk is currently offering its two-way texting feature for free to new and current clients. Danielle K. Lambert, founder of Snout School, explains. “This is a great chance to communicate, triage cases, or just have pet owners let you know when they are in the parking lot.”

Many tech options can be found in the newly formed Veterinary Telemedicine facebook group founded by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang. A few options include the following:

Texting

AllyDVM

PetDesk

Vitusvet

Zipwhip

Telemedicine (often include texting, too)

Anipanion

Covetrus

Medici

PetPro Connect

Televet

Teletails

Zoom (free or paid versions)

DIY texting and telemedicine

If researching and choosing a tech vendor that integrates with your existing systems feels too hard, consider the DIY option using Google Voice phone number for texting or Google Hangouts Meet for telemedicine.

The team at Veterinary Center of Morris County in East Hanover, New Jersey, have been considering adding telemedicine for about a year. A couple weeks ago, they added telemedicine to be overly prepared. Now, it’s a must.

Lisa Shedden, social media and marketing manager, says, “We use Google G-Suite for our company email system, so Google Hangouts Meet was an easy and obvious solution for our telemedicine system. It can be accessed by anyone with or without a Google account and does not require a download when used on a computer (an app download is required to use on a mobile device), which made it a simple solution for our clients—whether they are tech-savvy or not. It also integrates with Google Calendar, which we are using to schedule the appointments and send email invitations to the doctor and the client with a link to access the video conference.”

The practice remains open to existing clients for sick/injury appointments and emergencies. Shedden says they see only simpler appointments via telemedicine, including:

  • Post-op soft tissue checks
  • Skin issues
  • Minor limping (weight bearing)
  • Growths that have not suddenly appeared
  • Minor wounds

Shedden explains, “In office, these appointments would either be charged as a brief exam or as a courtesy medical progress exam (for post-operative rechecks), so we are continuing that for telemedicine. Our receptionists are taking payments when scheduling telemedicine appointments. If it is determined during the telemedicine consult that the patient should be brought in for a more thorough examination, diagnostics, and treatment, we are crediting the client’s account for the cost of the telemedicine consult.”

Fair warning, internet bandwidths sometimes cannot keep up with live video since so many are stuck at home watching Netflix.

Staffing challenges

Cristina Jaramillo, DVM, from St. Francis Veterinary Clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, wonders about maintaining staff levels and team morale as community restrictions become more stringent. Currently, her team is working with what she describes as a skeleton crew:

  • 1 veterinarian
  • 1 credentialed veterinary technician
  • 1 certified veterinary assistant
  • 2–3 kennel technicians
  • 2 receptionists that rotate shifts
  • 1 staff manager that shifts among the other staff roles as needed

With California now mandating a “safer at home” policy and others states likely to follow, team members may feel more reluctant to work. Jaramillo started a conversation about this in the AAHA-Accredited Members Facebook group.  If you’re a member of an accredited practice, please share how you’re managing these issues.

Photo credit: © iStock/metamorworks