The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges in the veterinary care sector. Our practice has had to respond to ever-evolving lockdowns, give clients and staff safe, COVID-19-free environments and embrace new digital technologies, while ensuring pets get the care they need.
Vaccines for COVID-19 are now readily available to anyone who wants one in our Cabbagetown community, which is beginning to see a return to some form of ‘new’ normalcy. While we slowly emerge from the tethers of this pandemic, we can’t forget the vital lessons and permanent changes this pandemic has triggered.
So, what’s changed?
1. Acceleration and Adoption of New Digital Platforms.
Out of the COVID-19 crisis, comes an opportunity to make life better for pets, their owners and our veterinarians who chose this career path because they wanted to improve animal welfare. This opportunity has forced vet clinics to embrace digital transformation faster than most had anticipated.
Our forward-looking animal hospital is using new technologies to enhance customer relationships in an ever-changing digital landscape. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is even more widespread now. While the pace of change can be challenging for our clients and staff alike, it’s entirely necessary for the future prospects of our practice.
Here are some examples of the digital platforms we’ve incorporated since the beginning of the pandemic:
VETSTORIA: This integration into our website allows clients the ability to schedule appointments in real time – on their own time. We’ve seen a significant uptick in online bookings as it gives our clients – new and existing – more control over the booking process.
GOFETCH: This software application has been implemented to enhance our Wellness Plans. It provides an avenue for pet parents to track wellness plan services, receive cash rewards for service and retail purchases as well offering access 24/7, after-hours telemedicine veterinary care.
SCRATCHPAY: Did you know we offer payment plans? If you haven’t purchased pet insurance, unexpected emergencies can result in higher than expected vet bills. We have teamed up Scratchpay to give our clients two simple, wallet-friendly payment plan options.
DOCUSIGN: We’ve incorporated this software for all mission-critical forms and legally binding agreements to ease onboarding, reduce paper and simplify our workflow.
2. Client Stress and Anxiety Levels.
At its heart, veterinary medicine is a client-focused business. Clear and empathetic communication with pet parents to ensure that patients receive the level of care they need is the top concern for any well-respected animal hospital.
The combination of (many!) new pet parents, reduced clinic hours due to staff shortages, changes in how the clinic operates (ie. curbside service) and the general uncertainty of how the pandemic may play out for people personally and professionally has created a higher level of stress for EVERYONE concerned.
Luckily for us, the majority of our clientele have taken the inconveniences and frustrations in stride – and we’re forever thankful for that. Not surprisingly, we have experienced a slight uptick in unacceptable client behaviour. As a result, we’ve had to re-examine our abuse policy to help mitigate the toll this behaviour takes on the mental wellness of our team.
With our goal of superior and consistent client service, all members of our veterinary team are expected to deal with a wide variety of client requests and behaviours. Sometimes these demands cross the line from merely challenging to being out-and-out, hostile or abusive.
Client behaviours we deem unacceptable at our clinic include:
- Physical violence or threats of violence
- Verbal abuse
- Discriminatory language or hate speech
- Continual unreasonable requests
- Threats, if demands are not met
- Behaviour that creates a negative experience for other clients in the clinic
It’s only human nature that clients (or staff) may have an “off” day from time to time. We’re comfortable in our ability to recognize and deal with these scenarios. But in some extreme instances, no good faith effort on our part will ever be enough to satisfy a very small minority of clients.
When a client exhibits consistently anti-social behaviour that negatively impacts the well-being of our team members or other clients, we will take the rare step to terminate the relationship and encourage them to find another veterinarian. This is becoming – regrettably – more common within the veterinary industry.
Fortunately, cases like this are extremely rare for us, but the mental effects of the experience on our staff can have lingering effects. To counter this, we shift our thinking to the majority of our wonderful and appreciative clients – particularly those who have sent us gifts and thank you notes. Or spend more time with a puppies…
3. Increased Focus on Preventative Medicine.
One thing has become abundantly clear since the beginning of the pandemic – there’s been an explosion of pet ownership among new – and lapsed – pet parents. Working from home, loneliness and extra disposable income have all played roles in the largest increase in pet ownership in recent memory – maybe ever.
Whether it’s enrolling in a comprehensive Wellness Plan, keeping current with vaccines or just regular yearly examinations, preventative medicine is at the forefront of our clinic’s objectives. The ability to anticipate and treat potential issues before they appear aligns with our goal to provide to best-in-class veterinary care for our clientele, not to mention potential cost savings.
3 ways we encourage good preventative medicine practices:
- We offer free, year-round telephone consultations to help determine your pets’ risk of parasitic infection by fleas, heartworm or – most importantly – ticks. Canine Lyme disease is a major issue on the wooded trails of Toronto, so awareness and protection is your greatest ally.
- We offer feature-packed and cost-efficient wellness plans for all stages of your pets’ lifecycle.
- Regular email and text reminders are delivered to our clients with the ability to make an online appointment immediately from the email or at a time of their convenience.
4. Veterinary Practices as an Essential Service
Pets play a prominent role in our lives. We rely on them for companionship and unconditional love, especially when lockdown measures confined us to our homes and away from loved ones. This is especially true for people living alone and/or depend on them as service and therapy animals.
Because of this, the pandemic has cemented our important role in society. By being classed as an ‘essential’ service across Canada – and many other parts of the world – veterinarians were allowed to operate amid lockdown actions.
Why are veterinarians considered essential services?
- Veterinary employees – along with other healthcare professionals – provide surveillance for reportable diseases such as rabies and Lyme Disease.
- Issuing certificates of veterinary inspection are required for the movement of animals between provinces and countries.
- Veterinary care is critical to ensure that only healthy animals enter the food supply.
- Veterinary practices provide medical and surgical care for critically ill and injured animals.
- Veterinarians provide care for service and therapy animals, supporting both animal and human welfare.
- Veterinarians also oversee the care of laboratory animals, which are critical to research that leads to the development of pharmaceuticals and biologics, including vaccines.
- Even if certain entities need to be closed to the public, veterinarians are needed for continued care of rare, threatened and endangered animals in zoos, aquariums, wildlife rehabilitation clinics and wildlife facilities.
From the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA): “The CVMA holds that veterinary practices and all veterinary services including where animals are housed for research purposes provide “essential” services to Canadians given that veterinary medicine is critical for public health, agri-food safety, pharmaceutical stewardship, and animal health and welfare.”
5. Team-Building and Off-Site Staff Events
With the lockdown measures in place during the pandemic, one of the things we’ve dearly missed are staff getaways outside the workplace.
Why would that be important in our practice?
Teamwork is regarded as a core skill within our veterinary team. Our clinic is a cozy, community-minded practice that performs big-city, best-in-class veterinary care with team members working in close quarters. One would think this would create an environment ripe for personality clashes and flare-ups, but this has been remarkable rare.
Despite our team unity, there has been something missing – the recognition that outside activities play a vital role in team-building at our clinic. The inability to socialize outside the professional environment tends to put the focus on the work habits and professionalism of the team members only. This is certainly a good thing, but interacting with teammates in a social environment can help bind those professional ties closer, not to mention increase trust.
Staff dinners, spa excursions, Blue Jay games and Xmas parties have all fallen by the wayside as our city has grappled with the lockdown effects of COVID-19. Thankfully, restrictions are being eased and we look forward to re-engaging with each other on a social and personal level.
6. Operational Changes Due to COVID-19
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collectively held our breaths to come to a point where we can – hopefully – start to exhale and put the worst part of pandemic in the rear-view mirror.
It’s our social and moral responsibility to our clients and the Cabbagetown community – as well as the need to protect our Cabbagetown Pet Clinic team – to make every effort to not stall the progress we’ve made over the past 18 months. Some of the changes mentioned below will wane as the pandemic recedes, but some may become permanent.
Changes to Clinic Protocols due to COVID-19:
- Fastidious Hygiene: With our already high standard of routine environmental cleaning, staff will continue to practice good hand hygiene as per the World Health Organization guidelines. All common surfaces are disinfected frequently.
- Curbside Services: Clients are still not permitted in the clinic, but with masking, Toronto’s high vaccination rate and the lifting of some provincial controls, some of these indoor restrictions have been relaxed in some circumstances. We have posted a sign on our entrance advising our clients that if they are showing any signs of illness to remain outside and call the clinic.
- Staffing: Although our team is fully vaccinated, our vet clinic hours are still limited to account for the current high demand for veterinary services in combination with a labour shortage in the vet industry.
- Cashless and Contactless Payments: Debit terminal payments are wiped down between EVERY transaction.
- Increased Digital Integration: (see above)
We’re extremely thankful that our clients have been super patient and understanding with the changes we’ve experienced and some of the protocols that remain in place. A reversion to ‘normal’ times – pre-COVID – will be a welcome addition to the overall clinic experience.