What New Protocols and Processes Will Stick After COVID-19?

The start of 2020 seems like a lifetime ago — all the carefully laid plans for veterinary practices have since been sidetracked by COVID-19 lockdowns, isolation, and uncertainty. When California announced shelter-in-place back in March, practices all scrambled for ideas and advice. New protocols and processes were needed to keep teams safe and practices open.

COVID-19 Veterinary Protocols

Different regions, and different practices within them, have seen wildly varying impacts from lockdowns. Where my practices are located in suburban Texas, the main requirements were to keep clients out of the building, minimize exposure for team members, and continue to provide the best medicine we could. Internally, we also needed to increase communications with team members, making them part of the decision process, so they felt as safe as possible. These changes resulted in three new protocols:

  • Mandatory Curbside Service: Clients stayed in their cars while we collected patients and delivered prescriptions to them.
  • Telemedicine: We provided remote appointments with doctors.
  • Additional Team Meetings: We added an extra meeting between morning and afternoon shifts to our regular morning rounds.

Your practice may have made additional changes, like limiting service types, extending appointments, or changing shift patterns, that you should also review.

Assess Your COVID-19 Protocols

When deciding whether you should change, keep, or alter your temporary pandemic protocols, consider the following:

  • Why was this created? What was the need this addressed, and does that need still exist?
  • Does it work? If the protocol is followed, does it fulfill the reason for its creation?
  • Is it used? This is often overlooked; if no one follows the rules, why not?
  • What are the disadvantages? Even good processes can have downsides; can you reduce them?
  • Is there a better way? Brainstorming with your team — especially if they do something regularly — can produce new ideas.

These questions are simple, but answering them properly can be deceptively complicated. This is the time to work with your teams to figure out the best way to adapt a protocol, allow them to talk about their concerns, and share their ideas to resolve any issues. Their daily experience of following the protocol's steps can give you insight from a different perspective.

For example, curbside service was originally put in place to meet state-mandated building closures and protect team members from exposure. Many states' restrictions have been lifted, but practices still want to limit exposure. The protocol certainly worked and was followed, but rising summer temperatures now place team members in a different kind of danger. At my practices, clients want to be allowed inside again, just like they are at other businesses.

Since it's not possible to keep our buildings closed throughout the summer, my teams decided to implement a new protocol. We're working on cleaning and social distancing inside the practices when we reopen, and we'll continue to offer clients the option of staying in their cars but with more control over how long our team members stay outside.

Keep the Good

When removing a protocol, keep in mind that parts of it might still be relevant. Trying something new can lead to learning, even if you don't see the desired results. Even as we change our curbside protocol, we're keeping these elements:

  • Detailed Pre-Appointment Communication: Ensuring that the client knows what to expect when they arrive and what they need to bring has made exams more efficient.
  • Improved History Collection: With less access to clients, technicians needed to get concise and complete histories every time. We've found that these more comprehensive histories help our team in diagnosing potential issues.
  • Increased Drop-Offs: This can really help doctors manage their time; since we've gotten better at this process, we'll be trying to do it more often.
  • Remote Payments: We've refined our payment solutions to collect and store client payment details, which should make checkout easier and faster in the future.

Overall, we'll be keeping more of the changes than we're eliminating. The extra communication every day has been a big hit with the team, and even though our clients are hesitant about telemedicine, it's a service we'll continue to offer but not require.

The last few months have been hard on everyone, but veterinary practices can come out of this stronger by learning from the experience and working with your teams to build better processes. Keep the good, fix the bad, and never lose sight of an opportunity to improve.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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