Veterinarians, like all essential workers, have had a new batch of stresses added to their work life. (Note that while not every state defines veterinarians as essential workers, the American Veterinary Medical Association advocates for that definition.)
Because of reduced support staff, many offices are functioning at 50% to 60% of their normal capacity, and there often aren’t enough hours in a day to address the burgeoning workload. As veterinary practices re-open, some pet owners may struggle to adjust to longer wait times and the new rules for visiting their veterinary clinic. Being a veterinarian was stressful enough, without having to work even longer days, filled with complaints from clients. And it’s especially grueling to work under these conditions when so many clinics are facing significant loss of revenue.
There are some customers who are simply not convinced that COVID-19 is a serious concern. As unfortunate as that is, it is not a vet’s job to educate their clients on this particular topic. Vets can, however, help to manage their client’s expectations about what the new normal looks like at their vet clinic. We’ve come up with a few common questions, along with polite, to-the-point responses for your clients.
Why Do I Have to Wait in My Car?
Because of social distancing measures, clinics must limit the number of people in the building. This can be due to restrictions in the state, or the clinic’s own safety concerns. (One survey showed that worker health was the greatest concern for veterinary clinic staff returning work.) In order to maintain sufficient staff and allow for distancing, many veterinarians have opted to eliminate the waiting room and have clients wait in their cars, after collecting their pet from a designated drop-off site.
Now your clients know how their dog feels when they leave them in the car while they run errands! But pointing that out might not be helpful!
What to tell your clients instead: Fewer employees in one building means slower business. When clients express their frustration at the changes, it may help to redirect the conversation. Maybe, just maybe, you and your client can find common ground when it comes to the happiness of their pet.
With fewer people and animals at the vet’s office, your pet won’t have to deal with the usual gamut of loud noises and strange smells. Also, fewer patients mean that staff members can offer more comfort and attention to each animal. There’s good evidence that cats and dogs are more comfortable visiting the vet with these restrictions in place. Dogs often express fear at the prospect of a veterinary visit, and one study warned that being at the vet’s can be so scary for cats that vets should keep in mind that a cat’s symptoms may be from stress rather than an illness.
Why Can’t I Book an Appointment Right Away?
Many states halted non-essential veterinary medical procedures in order to save medical supplies. Now, veterinarians are dealing with an intense backlog of procedures put on hold by the pandemic.
What clients need to know: Just because those procedures are labeled as “non-essential,” doesn’t mean they didn’t cause significant distress to pets. The list of non-essential medical procedures includes amputations, tumor removal, and cherry eye tucks, all of which could mean a pet has had to endure quite a bit of pain during their quarantine.
Make sure your client knows that if their animal needs to be seen right away, your staff can provide information about the nearest veterinary ER. As a pet owner, it’s always a good idea to be aware of these locations, just in case.
Telehealth and Your Patients
There’s an easy answer for clients who don’t want to deal with waiting in their car. “Have you tried making a TeleTails appointment?” Maybe you’re worried that clients may think you’re giving them the brush off, but you can make sure they know that telemedicine is easier for them as well as their pets.
You can back this statement up with facts. One study showed clients with dogs rated their satisfaction with a telemedicine follow-up just as highly as the control group that went in for a traditional veterinary appointment. What’s more, the AVMA recommends that vets triage their patients as much as possible with a pre-appointment phone or video consultation. There are, after all, plenty of pet concerns that vets can easily resolve with a quick assessment and a prescription.
The bottom line for clients: If they haven’t tried a digital vet visit yet, now is the time, especially if they aren’t sure their pet needs an in-person appointment. There are plenty of aggravating aspects to managing pet health during a pandemic, but telemedicine offers one of the few silver linings.