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COVID-19: Pet Owners & Veterinary Teams Partnering in Change

  • March 29, 2020 1:14 PM EDT

    Just like many other industries, veterinary teams everywhere are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. States vary in their regard of veterinary services as "essential" or not and, while changing on a daily basis, recent reports indicate a 20 to 40% decline in traffic flow through veterinary practices – even as parts of the U.S. are just beginning to institute stay-at-home measures in their communities.

    To comply with social distancing protocols and reduce use of personal protective equipment (PPE that is otherwise in great need by the human health care system), veterinary practices are prioritizing appointments including postponing annual wellness exam visits and elective procedures. Medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedures or surgeries are being temporarily delayed. It should come as no surprise that these measures have a direct economic impact on their business, and some practices are already having to lay off support staff. 

    These social distancing measures, however, do not leave pet owners disconnected from veterinary care. Veterinary practices are needing to be innovative and shift in how they provide continuity of care to patients and services for their clients. Many practices are starting to do curbside or parking lot greets – where staff members come out to their client’s car to retrieve a pet that requires an exam or medical attention inside the veterinary practice. Conversations are taking place by phone or video conferencing. And while pet owners can’t simply walk in to their veterinarian’s practice to request or retrieve medication refills or purchase food or other retail items (e.g. Heartworm or Flea/Tick preventatives), they can communicate those requests by phone or various other means. Some practices are scheduling pick-up times and shuttling those types of items out to a client’s car, while others are arranging for home delivery.  

    What if a pet owner has concerns about their pet’s health? Veterinary practices still have the ability to triage health concerns and even address annual wellness checkups through the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine is one way that veterinary practices can continue to stay connected with their clients and patients. Simply stated it is the exchange of information or communication through use of the telephone, text messaging or text chat platforms, email, or video conferencing (e.g. Skype, Facetime, Zoom, etc.) Although states vary in whether they permit veterinarians to use telemedicine in practice, last week the FDA gave veterinarians the green light to provide telemedicine services (at least temporarily) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain requirements will be temporarily suspended so that veterinarians can continue to address animal health needs during this time. Some veterinary practices were early adopters of this technology and have already been connecting with their clients using telemedicine. Others are just now having to change in how they connect with clients and are finding themselves incorporating telemedicine into their business flow. While it is not a replacement for a physical examination, there's a lot that can be ascertained using telemedicine.

    Pet owners should all be assured that veterinary practice teams are doing the best they can during these times. They are all committed to continuing to serve in the best and safest way possible. There are steps that pet owners – themselves – can be taking to partner with their veterinary care provider and ensure that the measures being taken by the veterinary team are maximized for success. Consider the following:

    • If it is new to you, embrace telemedicine as an option for connecting with the veterinary team. Understand that this technology may be an additional cost of doing business for the practice and the individual you connect with is providing a service. A telemedicine consultation fee is to be expected.

    • Be diligent in requesting medication refills early - don’t wait until you run out. 

    • Don’t drop in to request a medication refill or to purchase a retail item. Communicate those requests in advance and ask the veterinary practice options for retrieving them.

    • If you order or purchase pet food, medications, or flea and tick preventatives through non-veterinary channels (think online pharmacies or other pet retailers), consider purchasing these items from your veterinary clinic instead. First – you can trust that the items you are purchasing have traveled through a trusted or regulated supply chain. Second, it’s a great way to show support of the practice during these tough economic times.

    • The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is already being felt by pet owners. There may be a limitation in discretionary spending and expendable income for tending to pet care and health needs. Ask your veterinary team about the tools available to you to help afford the costs of care including wellness plans, third party payers, and pet health insurance