Is the Curbside Veterinary Service here to stay?

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Is the Curbside Veterinary Service here to stay?

Dr. Robyn Limberg describes herself as a spokeswoman. After practicing in St. Clair, Michigan for 25 years, she has many clients who are also friends. “As a result, there are often conversations and chats that are not necessarily related to the situation,” she said. As a result, their appointments are routinely long.

Or earlier before COVID-19. Nowadays, pet owners are no longer allowed in the clinic. That means no chance for Gabfests and Limberg stays on schedule. It’s a win for efficiency – 2020 was their most successful year – but the vet missed the one-on-one interview and customer training opportunities.

The advent of roadside pickup and drop-offs for pet patients has changed the way veterinary practices work. To contain the spread of the coronavirus, clinic workers wearing personal protective equipment are collecting patients from customers waiting outside or in their cars. Communication usually takes place by telephone.

Seventy-seven percent of veterinarians who responded to a quick survey conducted by the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession, in January said they offer roadside service. It was the most widely used COVID-19 prevention measure cited by the 2,269 respondents.

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For many veterinarians, the approach has been an evil born of the need for a pandemic. They describe it as inefficient, impersonal and put too much strain on the staff. The new protocols have also sparked complaints from customers, including Mark Opperman, a veterinarian advisor, who revealed his displeasure about the care of his dog during a roadside appointment in October. (His complaints did not go down well with his veterinary customer base.)

However, over time, some veterinarians have discovered benefits to the curb service. A fan who asked on a VIN forum in January, “Does anyone like it that way?” attracted more yes than no. Proponents said that less direct interaction with customers allowed for faster, smoother appointments. Some said they are considering adopting aspects of the new reception model for the long term.

Efficiency is in the eyes of the beholder

Dr. Thom Haig, a VIN practice management consultant and full-time practitioner in Powell, Tennessee, said in an interview that he was “surprised” to hear that some vets found the roadside system to be more efficient.

“If you want to keep the same level of production, you actually need more roadside service personnel,” he said.

If a practice normally allows owners to keep their own dogs in the examination room, that practice will need a staff member to keep the dog in the owner’s absence. Also, phone traffic is likely to double or triple, thereby retaining another employee.

Some vets in the Message Board discussion agreed with Haig’s views. They also cited other issues, including customers waiting longer than usual. Inability of veterinarians to quickly ask questions to pet owners or get them to pinpoint problem areas on an animal’s body during the exam; need to locate a pet owner to approve diagnostic tests; the frustration of communicating over the phone without the aid of non-verbal cues; and increased workload for reception staff.

Connected phone lines were a challenge in Dr. Margaret Hammond in Renton, Washington. The clinic has three lines that are manned several times throughout the day. Also, some of their older customers have difficulty hearing clearly on their phones. She misses personal conversations and complains about how short the telephone communication can be.

Even so, Hammond is one of those vets who think curbs have clear advantages. Contrary to Haig’s view, she believes her practice is as efficient as ever, if not more efficient.

The review process is often faster, she said, because the keeper is not present. “I have [an assistant] Holding the patient who not only knows how to hold them but how to hold them so that the patient doesn’t get wound up and freaked out, “she said.

She also appreciates that the building is quieter under the new system. “I like the fact that the doorbell doesn’t ring every two minutes when someone walks in or out,” she said. “The checkout process is much more rational. There is a lot less chaos in the building.”

That’s good for the animals. “I find that my nervous patients are much less nervous,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s because they spend less time in the building. [or] The building is quieter. I don’t know what to trace it back to … but I love that. “

The majority of their customers also seem to be on board. With the exception of a few who refused to bring their pets when unable to enter the clinic with them, Hammond heard few complaints.

Limberg, the Michigan practitioner, reports that her clients are about fifty to fifty about the new regime.

“Some miss personal interaction with me,” she said. She’s still trying to keep her customers informed via email and Facebook Messenger. Limberg is deaf, so she doesn’t use the phone.

“Many love the increased efficiency and the ease of sitting in their car while doing so [their] Pet is cared for, “she said.” Older customers like it, especially during our cold Michigan winter. And parents with babies like it for the same reason, because they don’t have to come out in the cold. “

Bigger is better?

Through her experience as an assistant veterinarian, Dr. Allison Ward seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on the roadside model.

During the pandemic, she moved to six clinics in southeast Florida, from an individual doctor to a practice with four doctors. Your takeaway: Larger practices with staff doing specific tasks are best.

“The doctor does the doctor’s jobs, and the technicians do the blood draws, the x-rays, the bills, the estimates and all those things,” she said, adding that at best, a staff member will stay with a patient through every step of the process .

The opposite is also the case, according to Ward. Understaffed practices that rely on the doctor to cover the duties of the veterinary technician face an uphill battle with the added roadside pressure.

“Curbside really highlighted the good things [well-managed] practice, “she said.” When it’s done well, I love it. “

Pandemic or no, she believes not every appointment requires a personal visit. “I think we can do a lot – not everything, but we can do a lot by the roadside,” she said.

The future is hybrid

Dr. Alison Stambaugh, who practices in Northern California, sounds a lot like Ward.

“I don’t really see us sticking to the very side of the road, but I think it might be an option for certain types of appointments,” she said in a comment on another VIN discussion. in February. As an example, she offered an appointment for a veterinary technician: “Perhaps the customer who is waiting for his dog’s vaccine booster or anal gland expression, which is already happening in the treatment area, can wait in the car instead of in the lobby.”

Stambaugh also suggested that owners don’t always have to be around for appointments like ear exams, suture removals, and routine blood tests. “These can be more efficient if the dog is brought directly into the treatment area,” she said. “Food and medical collection can have the option to pay for and take out over the phone, so fewer people hang out in front of the front desk.”

According to Dr. Beth Fritzler, VIN practice management consultant and partner at a Seattle clinic, rethinking admission protocols is just the beginning.

“The curbside service prompted the profession to investigate its processes,” said Fritzler. She suspects that as a result of this survey, many practices will emerge from the pandemic at higher levels of productivity. Her own clinic has introduced new practices such as telemedicine, online payments, and of course, roadside service.

“It allows us to care for more people and more pets because it gives people options,” she said.

Fritzler identified some conventions that streamline patient drop-off and pick-up services in their practice, including numbering parking spaces so staff know exactly where to go. Email forms for customers to fill out prior to an appointment; Conversations with customers via video calls; Send a detailed record of the appointment by email; and offers online payment and prescription ordering.

Fritzler envisions using a hybrid approach in the future. Repeating a perception voiced by other vets, Fritzler said the animals were quieter overall, with shorter waiting times in the clinic and limited interaction with their owners and other pets. She could still ask customers with nervous pets to wait in their cars until check time.

The pandemic has changed Fritzler’s view of recording protocols and exercise systems.

“I think pets are more important than ever. Our job is more important than ever,” she said. “We developed some things that I think could be really positive in the future, despite all the negative aspects. There have been more silver linings than I ever thought.”