How Technology Can Help Facilitate Patient Care during COVID-19

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many veterinary practices were still relying on tried-and-true technologies like phone calls and old credit card machines, putting off adopting newer alternatives until they felt they had the time and budget to do so. Now, every practice quickly needs to get past their technology hurdle to adapt existing tech to new workflow demands and emerging client needs during the COVID-19 pandemic — all while continuing to provide excellent patient care.

The New Demands of Veterinary Medicine

How we deliver veterinary care has changed dramatically since the pandemic began. Most veterinary hospitals in the U.S. have altered their workflow protocols to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's social distancing guidelines and reduce the risk of infection for their staff, clients, and pets. According to the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA), 49% of practices have changed how their staff works since the start of the pandemic — implementing curbside pickup and drop-off, decreasing contact with clients, increasing office disinfecting, limiting wellness visits, reducing hours of operation, and maintaining social distance between practice staff.

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One way practices have made those changes is by adopting new veterinary technologies. According to the VHMA, 65% of practices have added new technology to improve practice operations, using COVID-19 as an impetus for employing initiatives they've long been interested in exploring.

It may seem daunting to make so many changes in a short time frame — and make no mistake, it is difficult — but technology can help facilitate patient care, workflows, and communication during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Veterinary Technology to Adopt During COVID-19

A good place to start when thinking about what new technologies to adopt and how to go about it is to consider what you need help with during social distancing: pre-visit preparation, client check-in, in-clinic client communication, post-visit client compliance, and overall customer satisfaction. More specifically, ask yourself what you want veterinary technology to do for your practice.

To get you started, here's a list of the five key things you need to do to ease your workflow and the technologies that can help you get there.

1. Deliver Remote Care via Telemedicine Services

To keep clients and staff safer, clients should be staying at home as much as possible. Some quarantined clients may not even be able to leave home. To that end, client and veterinarian video- or chat-based consultations may be in order. The American Veterinary Medical Association has a list of app- and web-based providers that offer platforms to help veterinarians triage patients and address less complicated cases. But first, read up on what kind of medical information can be offered remotely in your state and which kinds of cases may be safely addressed in this manner. You also might want to consider which of these services might integrate with your PIMs.

2. Access Client and Patient Information Remotely

When veterinarians and clients can access their pet's healthcare information from anywhere, telemedicine becomes possible everywhere. But not every practice has that capability built into their software. Cloud-based PIMS and other apps and services likely already offer you anytime, anywhere access to your data. If you use a server-based PIMS, explore if there are secure remote access resources or capabilities. Integrating your practice management software with programs that specialize in online reminders and appointments will typically grant you access to clients' stats and at least the rudimentary aspects of your patients' medical records (if not the entire record). This can help take the pressure off your overwhelmed front desk.

3. Facilitate Social Distancing During Check-In

Check-in during COVID-19 has been chaotic for many practices, leading to overtaxed phone lines and workflow bottlenecks. Most practices now have to separate pets from their family members outside the facility. Veterinary team members are thereby tasked with bringing pets into the clinic with minimum contact. Consider patient workflow software that allows for electronic signatures, customized curbside workflows, and more. Most services that offer remote access to your client-patient data and appointments can be customized for self-check-in and remote messaging.

4. Collect Contactless Payments

Since clients aren't allowed to enter the office building, your old credit card machine won't be of much use during check-out. Much like you pay for products and services using online applications (such as Zelle, Cash App, Venmo, and PayPal), there are software providers that offer integrated payment processing to promote social distancing during check-out as well. But if all you need is secure, contactless payment, it's easy to set up a business PayPal account.

5. Communicate Electronically Before, During, and After Visits

While often fragile and fraught, client-team communication has become even more challenging in this environment. The new normal is for clients to wait in the car while pets are evaluated, diagnosed, and treated, so you need to help clients keep tabs on the entire visit, from start to finish. Many telehealth providers will help facilitate communication throughout the visit, but some do it more seamlessly than others. Some even specialize in real-time video of a pet's visit.

Social media can keep you connected with clients. Update your social channels to let clients know what to expect from your new workflows and protocols, offer additional discharge instructions, thank them after the visit, and give them general advice for caring for their pets during this time.

It's Time to Try Out New Veterinary Technologies

Try taking a test drive of any service or software before you buy. Most offer free demos, and some even include free trial periods. Many are free while others offer a flat fee per month.

It's up to you to determine what you need most and which services ultimately work best with your practice's culture and workflow demands, so you can concentrate on what you do best: offering superior patient care.

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Patty Khuly

A graduate of both Wellesley College and University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Patty Khuly is an award-winning veterinarian known for her independent thinking, her spirited pet advocacy, her passion for the veterinary profession, and her famously irreverent pet health writing. She lives in South Miami with four dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats, and a hilarious flock of hens.

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