Originally posted on dvm360.com - Veterinary clinics dramatically shifted their protocols during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, most notably with the implementation of curbside care, according to Mary Lopez, hospital manager at Hendricks Veterinary Hospital in Boise, Idaho.
Although a 2020 survey showed that most people prefer curbside service,1Lopez says that in veterinary medicine, this sudden shift in protocols presented unique challenges. Appointment times are staggered , services are limited, and cleaning protocols have increased, resulting in more frustrated clients, she told attendees at a recent Fetch dvm360® virtual conference.
Additionally, there has been a spike in pet adoptions, significantly increasing clientele. With an ongoing shortage of veterinary staff across the nation, many clinics are struggling to meet these new demands, says Lopez.
To help improve patient care, enhance client experience, and reduce burnout and compassion fatigue among staff members, Lopez and her team made adjustments to curbside protocols.
Here are 5 strategies Lopez implemented at her clinic that you can incorporate in your practice to provide a gold standard for curbside care.
1. Utilize digital forms
Paper forms are tedious and time consuming for clients and veterinary team members. To reduce check-in times, try converting to digital forms. At Lopez’s hospital, clients complete forms digitally using SnoutID (a pet health app) before the appointment, saving her team 30 minutes during the check-in process. SnoutID also allows clients to review payment estimates, limiting the sharing of pens and direct contact with paperwork. Other digital signature platforms include JotForm and DocuSign, says Lopez.
2. Collect medical history prior to appointment
During the pandemic, phone lines and email inboxes have been jammed, delaying communication with clients, says Lopez. To help facilitate prompt communication with pet owners, Lopez and her team decided to collect medical history before appointments, using SnoutID. This app has its own staff of veterinarians and technicians who handle data consents for records transfer, she says. The platform also helps retrieve health records throughout the United States, she adds.
3. Standardize arrival
Busy phone lines have made it difficult for clients to alert staff to their arrival, says Lopez. Trying to locate cars in a packed parking lot is challenging without proper labeling. “Sometimes, we would get clients that would call to check in and they would say, ‘I’m in the silver car.’ How many times have you been out and looked for silver cars? That can be a little confusing,” says Lopez.
To help standardize arrival, Lopez has clients click the “I’m here” button or send a message on the Snout ID app, and the team is immediately notified of the client’s arrival. Lopez also recommends labeling parking stalls. She says a staffer’s husband built labeled parking signs to help locate clients.
4. Create a secure payment system
Collecting payments over the phone can present security concerns, including credit card fraud, and clients can easily dispute charges without the backup of a signature. “It was very vital that we created a secure payment system for our clients, to make their safety and ours,” says Lopez, who recommends the following secure payment options:
Use card readers like Clover or Square. Make sure you have strong Wi-Fi because you must go to your client’s vehicle.
Utilize digital invoicing systems such as PayPal, for example.
Collect payments ahead of time using an app like SnoutID.
5. Enhance client communication
“It’s so important to effectively communicate with your clients. You need to explain the new process to them because if you don’t communicate, it’s going to be very difficult for you and your staff,” says Lopez, adding that you should regularly update all of your communication platforms.
Be sure to send a mass email to all clients and update them once a month. You can also utilize 2-way texting to keep pet owners informed. Additionally, make sure your latest updates are pinned at the top of your social media pages. To accommodate your less tech-savvy clients, add signage to your practice door. Put up banners to let clients know you are offering curbside service, including contact information. Make the text large and use an easy-to-read font style and color.
Finally, educate your customer service representatives and your technicians about all new protocols and how to best discuss them with clients.
“Clients were anxious at first. We had to deal with a lot of emotions. So, I had to create these talking points or scripts for my team so that they have a professional way to respond to these clients,” Lopez says.
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