5 Ways to improve access to care at your practice
Fifty-five percent of adults ages 50 to 80 own at least one pet according to a 2019 AARP poll. And with the rising costs of rent, food, and medicine, elderly clients and pet owners with disabilities are among the more vulnerable when it comes to access to veterinary care.
Factors such as lack of transportation and limited income mean owning a pet can be daunting for older clients and people with disabilities. Other factors include physical constraints such as arthritis, chronic pain, or mobility challenges. What could easily be dismissed as lack of compliance from a client might be due to physical inability to fulfill the recommended treatment plan.
Considering these potential circumstances can make a huge difference when it comes to providing care for the full spectrum of pets and pet owners in your community.
1. Assess your ADA compliance
Veterinary practices are required by law to be ADA compliant, which means following guidelines for accessibility throughout the building, including the parking lot and around all walkways. Hire a specialist in your state’s ADA laws to assess your practice and take corrective action immediately if they identify problems.
Beyond the legal requirement, your practice can go the extra mile by keeping in mind comfort and ease of access for a variety of clients throughout your practice. Consider the type of seating offered in your lobby and other areas. Something as simple as switching to armchairs in the lobby might make it easier for clients with mobility challenges to get in and out of chairs. For areas like exam rooms with limited space, a simple rail on the wall can be very helpful.
2. Watch for trip and fall hazards
While your clinic may be set up to move animals through efficiently, how accessible is it for clients in a wheelchair or someone with slower reflexes? It can be difficult to notice possible trip and fall hazards if you aren’t intentionally looking for them. Something as simple as an uneven floor can be dangerous. Assessing these potential hazards isn’t a “one-and-done,” but something that should be considered regularly to ensure that accessibility is a priority.
3. Increase font sizes and consider reading level of all forms
When it comes to literature, prescriptions, or recommendations, difficult-to-read material could inadvertently result in high-risk mistakes. It could be the difference between 5.00 mL or 500 mL depending on the level of visibility. Even information regarding financial assistance should be presented in a way that is easy to read.
Larger fonts could eliminate someone’s need for assistance in filling out these forms and decrease the time needed to onboard new clients. Bonus points for clinics that have larger pens for those patients with reduced dexterity in their hands.
4. Continue some curbside services
Many practices felt the frustration of curbside services during the pandemic. However, for older clients and those with health conditions, this was possibly the only way they could bring their pets to the clinic. This is especially true for immunocompromised clients.
Continuing to offer curbside for drop-off appointments and for clients who just need to pick up a prescription or have a shorter appointment like a recheck, could do wonders for some clientele.
5. Offer telehealth and house calls if possible
Veterinarian Nicole Sabo, DVM, president of Veterinary Care Everywhere, has been providing affordable house call services to clients with mobility challenges since 2018.
“There is no support for elderly and nonmobile clients for their animals,” Sabo said ,which is why she started her small grassroots nonprofit.
These services were especially helpful during the pandemic.
“We were able to just go to the house and do things in the backyard. We could be removed from the owner and do all the mandatory protocols for the exams,” Sabo said.
Some other considerations could be implementing telehealth into your practice flow. Since the pandemic, the push for telemedicine has accelerated progress to allow the FDA to allow more practices to deliver advice, consulting, recheck appointments, and other services online.
While it is difficult to be accessible to everyone, there are steps you can take, and some you’re already taking, to improve accessibility and deliver quality veterinary care for a wide variety of people in your community.
2021 AAHA/AVMA Telehealth Guidelines for Small-Animal Practice
New study offers promising results for both shelter cats and older adults (NEWStat)
Great pets that aren’t cats or dogs (AARP)
5 Ways to treat pet inflation (AARP)
“You snooze, you lose.” Today’s Veterinary Business (Aug/Sept 2020)
“ADA Compliance: It’s the Law.” Today’s Veterinary Business (Feb/Mar 2022)
Terrisha Buckley is a freelance writer who also works in biomedical research. She enjoys writing about the veterinary medical profession and sharing new information with those interested in the field including veterinary professionals.
Photo credit: © SeventyFour E+ via Getty Images Plus
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.