COVID-19 Operational Plan: Running a Practice during a Pandemic

The day-to-day lives of practice managers have changed with COVID-19, and chances are, they'll never go back to the pre-pandemic "normal." As practices reopen their doors to clients, practice managers need to create a new operational plan that addresses key issues, including staff and client concerns, how to conduct appointments, and new protocols that efficiently and safely provide the best possible patient care.

1. Staff and Client Safety

Staff and client safety should be your first and foremost consideration. As part of your post-COVID-19 plan, ensure that you're following all of the business and workplace guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the rules set forth by your state and local governments. Reassuring your team that you're following strict safety measures — including guidelines for social distancing and face coverings — will help them feel safe and allow them to focus on caring for patients and communicating with clients.

When creating and adjusting your plan, visit the CDC's website frequently to ensure you're aware of any new guidance.

2. Team Management

Practice managers' No. 1 concern throughout the pandemic has been their staff's safety and mental health. Practice managers have seen staff worry about their health and their family's, how they're going to pay bills, and patients' well-being. Those worries won't end when you reopen. According to the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, veterinary staff have mixed emotions about reopening. While some team members are eager to return to business as usual, others are reluctant and possibly frightened of the increased risks.

As practice managers, it's important to validate and respond to your team's differing emotions — whether they're happy, frustrated, or worried — as you create your operational plan. Make sure you're checking in with your staff during the process and gathering their thoughts before you finalize the plan. Conduct monthly one-on-one meetings with each team member to comfortably address any concerns and to thank them individually for their service to your community, your practice, and your work family. By fostering open, honest communication, you'll create a positive team dynamic that will prosper long past the pandemic.

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3. Day-to-Day Protocols

Day-to-day protocols have been changing for months now, adapting to updates to CDC regulations. As you open back up, consider which COVID-19 protocols you want to continue, remove, or change. For each protocol, ask yourself these six guiding questions:

  • Who does it affect?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • When do we use it?
  • Where does it make us more efficient?
  • Why do we have it in place?
  • How can we improve it?

Keep your staff involved by talking to them about what's working well and what isn't and communicating any updates during regular staff meetings (whether all together or in departments, depending on the structure of your practice). This is a great time for staff to give their feedback on protocol changes, as well. Remember, your employees are on the front lines and know what they like and what clients like.

4. Client Communication

One of the best changes to come out of the pandemic is efficient client communication. Because face-to-face communication was not an option, practices have pivoted to different modes of communication, including telemedicine, phone consultations, more thorough and succinct patient history-taking, remote checkout processes, and more. Technology has been a huge help during the pandemic, allowing for less client contact.

When creating your operational plan, retain the client communication methods that have saved your staff time and energy during their day, and abandon those that are more work than they're worth. Also, keep an eye on guidance from your state and local health departments to determine what level of social distancing is prudent, and use that as a guide to determine what client communication technologies you should use to keep your staff and clients safe and healthy.

5. Scheduling

Scheduling is one of the highest priorities for staff and clients alike. Because normal scheduling processes were different pre-pandemic, this can be a touchy and ever-changing subject. To keep safety at the top of your priority list, make plans for when to use curbside service, telemedicine, and drop-off services and when to introduce in-person appointments. Having options will allow your practice to provide superior customer service and stay flexible as the risk of infection shifts.

Consider sending a survey to clients who visited during the peak of the pandemic, asking for their thoughts on what they'd like to see in the future and which protocols worked and which didn't. Would they like to see curbside service continue? Would they like to have more telemedicine options, or would they like to see the friendly faces inside your practice again?

6. Flexibility

One important note to remember while creating your plan is to make it flexible. At any time, a new community outbreak of COVID-19 could cause you to revert to more limited operations as in the pandemic's beginning stages. Alternatively, you could get the all-clear from health officials to resume normal operations when it's safe to do so. Your new operational plan should prepare your practice for both possibilities while meeting the needs of the current moment.

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Amy Williams

Amy has been in the veterinary field since 1999. She has worked in both small and large emergency and wellness hospitals in a variety of positions, including: Kennel Technician, Veterinary Technician, Customer Service Representative, Inventory Manager, Practice Manager, Practice Administrator, and currently as a District Manager for Lakefield Veterinary Group. She served on the Board of Directors for the Houston Veterinary Practice Managers Association and the Montgomery County Veterinary Medical Association. In addition, she serves as a consultant and speaker for many associations and companies, such as the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. 

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