Let’s face it. No one was prepared for the curve balls COVID-19 has thrown at their veterinary practices in recent weeks. How could we have been?
All we can do now is adapt to the changes according to what’s going on in our world. First and foremost, it’s important to note that this article is a reactionary response. Our expert panelists are also experiencing this in real time right along with you. 7S Society is here to support you, offer our advice, and accommodate these changes as they happen. If we work together, we can see this through, but we must take action NOW.
The following information stems from a webinar hosted by our wealth-of-knowledge panel consisting of:
- Drs. Dan Markwalder & Adam Conroy: Multi-practice owners answering your financial and HR questions.
- Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: Telemedicine and communications expert sharing how you can legally use telemedicine now.
- Danielle K. Lambert: Marketing expert sharing tips on how to communicate changes to your clients.
We broke the information into four parts for you:
Part 1: Your Team
Part 2: Your Services
Part 3: Financials
Part 4: Communication
Part 1: Your Team
During these unsure times, it’s critical to have open communication with your team members. Just as your head is spinning with questions of how to operate a veterinary practice during a global pandemic, your team is having unsettling thoughts regarding job security, staying healthy, and keeping their families healthy.
There can never be too much communication, especially during a time like this! Getting your team together for “round ups” at the beginning of each shift offers a great time for everyone’s thoughts to be put on the table.
First and foremost, reassure your team that their safety is your #1 priority. Go over every new policy taking effect in order to keep them and the general public safe and healthy. For example, institute spatial rules, such as no hand shaking, giving at least 5-6 feet between people when interacting, and generally respecting distance. Hang signs communicating these rules around your practice, and encourage your front desk staff to remind clients of this. Hang a sign on your clinic door to not enter the practice if you are showing any sickness symptoms. If a client is showing symptoms, offer a phone number they can call for a team member to come to their car to retrieve their pet for treatment. Institute a “one person per visit” policy for each pet being seen to limit the number of clients entering your practice.
Now is the time to exercise extreme workplace flexibility. If you don’t have firm sick policies, you’ll want to develop some immediately so that each team member knows what is expected of them. Communicate what they should do if they develop symptoms and stress the fact that their health and doing our part to keep the virus contained is the main focus.
You may want to consider breaking your staff up into teams so that you’re also limiting exposure to each other. In the event that someone does get sick, this would protect more of your staff, and ultimately more people out in the world. Use this as an opportunity to cross-train your staff to prepare for people being out. Be sensitive to those of your staff who may have high-risk family members and respect whatever personal decisions they may need to make throughout these next few weeks.
Remember– decisions right now are not ultimately profit driven. COVID-19 is introducing a unique challenge of keeping people safe while also keeping our businesses afloat. There are other things you can do to ensure the latter, which means no one’s health or safety needs to be compromised. Having each other’s backs and showing up for others is the name of the game right now!
Part 2: Your Services
While everything is changing around us, it’s a good time to take a look at our services and how we can alter them in order to adapt. For example, temporarily eliminating unnecessary services will assist in keeping contact between clients and staff to a minimum. What does this mean? Taking “routine” visits that can wait until a later date and are not emergent off the table.
For clients who need food, medication, or supplies for their pet, but don’t necessarily need an in-person appointment, setting up a curbside service would be very beneficial. If you don’t have a messaging application in place, you can make it as simple as a phone call when they arrive outside (if you want to take advantage of setting up such an application, stay tuned for resources regarding that).
Also, to look on the bright side, this may be a great time to introduce telemedicine to your practice! Dr. Vogelsang, our panel expert, stresses that this does not need to be difficult. Telemedicine encompasses pretty much anything that is not a conversation in an exam room. You do not need to stress out about fancy technologies in order to get this set up (although, again, we will offer you resources to help with this if you choose to use them). You can offer it over the phone, on a Zoom call, or via Skype! Payments can easily be accepted before or after the call via PayPal, Venmo, or over the phone.
Dr. Vogelsang does point out the need for a VCPR (Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship) in order to make an official diagnosis or prescribe medications. The rules vary from state to state, so be sure to check your regulations before proceeding. Regardless, even without a VCPR, you can still offer “tele-triage” type services, meaning you can advise patients without diagnosing. This will be incredibly helpful in pointing out when an animal may or may not need emergency care, and will keep emergency vet visits to a minimum.
Part 3: Financials
We’ll say it loud for the people in the back — Call your insurance broker!
If you haven’t already checked in with your insurance broker to explore your policy, now is the time. Your policy may include something called “business interruption insurance”. Knowing what your coverage is like in the event that your practice needs to temporarily close for any reason will be critical in attempting to plan.
Check in with your vendors! Payment plans or deferred payments may be an option during this time, but you won’t know until you ask. If possible, start contributing to a contingency fund now that may come in handy for overhead, paying staff, paying your loans, etc. Don’t wait on this! You can also reach out to your lenders and just explore what options may be available to you, such as a short-term, interest only loan. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out what back-up plans you can potentially count on.
Legislation is in the works as far as supplemental income for those affected by COVID-19. The SBA is working on a disaster assistance loan for businesses affected by COVID-19 for up to two million dollars. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is working on the possibility of cancelling payroll taxes through April. There’s also a bill in progress that, if it passes, would give you a tax credit to pay your employees if they need to take sick time beyond 14 days (the first 14 days would be unpaid. That’s where your contingency fund could come in handy ). None of this is set in stone yet, but it does feel promising that these are even possibilities.
Part 4: Communication
All of this planning is key, but what ties it all together? Communication.
Open communication is a requirement for success during this time. How can you push this information out effectively?
Utilize emailing your client base! Many practices are setting up a COVID-19 landing page on their websites. Doing so will allow you one place to post all of your updates, and then you can blast push notifications out to your clients directing them to that link. They can always reference back for the most up-to-date information.
Take a look at what applications you are using to connect with your clientele. Do you have applications in place for push notifications? PetDesk is a great option for this! How about two way messaging? Again, for now, use what you need to in order to get things done. In the meantime, we will provide you resources in case you want to use this time to expand on this.
People are looking at social media for updates right now as well. You need people to see your posts regarding important updates. Now may be the time to consider paying to boost your posts and for advertising. Otherwise, you’ll need to make sure your posts are engaging so that people will be inclined to share and your visibility will increase.
As far as social media content, our recommendation is to stay mostly COVID-19 related. You don’t want to appear tone deaf to this situation, and you want to be seen as a leader in your community during this time. Sure, you can break it up with some light-heartedness here and there, as we are all going to need a good laugh or smile to keep us sane, but establish your leadership status. Your clients won’t forget it.
The Wrap Up:
Remember, these are our recommendations based on what’s going on right now. As we have all seen, things are changing daily, and different situations will come with altering or new recommendations. None of our decisions at the moment are likely going to be permanent.
Overall, at 7S Society, we want to encourage everyone to band together, support one another, and plan now to see this thing through. Stay with us as we expand on our coverage of this topic, offer resources as they become available, and ultimately cheer on our fellow veterinary professionals.