COVID-19 Considerations for Veterinary Hospitals
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our day-to-day lives, and veterinary hospitals have not escaped the disruption. During this challenging time, what should veterinary hospitals be doing?
The number one priority is to maintain the health and safety of clients, patients, and employees. Your veterinary hospital should follow guidelines issues by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), which outline best practices for sick policies, cleaning of facilities, and more. Resources specifically for the veterinary community can be found on the American Veterinary Medical Association website as well as on the American Animal Hospital Association website. Additionally, we have compiled our own COVID-19 Resource Center to help you navigate this crisis.
Here are additional considerations as you think about how you can help your clients, your employees, and your hospital.
As more people begin to work remotely and self-isolate, now is a great time to utilize telemedicine. For patients, this provides an opportunity to receive care without leaving the house. For veterinarians, telemedicine can provide much-needed flexibility while still allowing contact with patients. For example, a veterinarian who needs to stay home with children who are out of school can provide basic care for patients through telemedicine.
Telemedicine can provide a revenue stream for the hospital at a time where appointments are likely being canceled or postponed. However, it is important to note that the rules and guidelines around the use of telemedicine vary from state to state. Be sure to comply with your local veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) regulations.
If your hospital remains open, consider seeing only critically ill patients in order to limit exposure. By meeting patients at their car, you can ensure patients are seen while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19. A veterinary technician could meet the client at their car, take the pet in for the appointment, and return the pet to the owner after the check-up. Double-leashing is recommended to help ensure pets remain safe. Though there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, much is still unknown about how the virus is spread. Meeting patients at the car eliminates the possibility of having too many people in the waiting room and ensures compliance with social distancing measures.
Another important consideration is that clients’ financial resources may become limited or strained. This means that alternative credit options will play a more important role. Be sure to educate clients on third-party payment options that are available to them and consider providing links to allow clients to apply for assistance prior to the visit. Also, reach out to your third-party finance companies to assure that their systems are prepared to take on an increased number of clients.
It is important that you do not panic during this tough time. Your hospital’s employees are looking to you to guide them through the coming weeks, so it is vital that you remain calm.
Make sure that you are being completely transparent with employees about the situation at hand. Overcommunicating is better than under-communicating, as this assures that everyone is updated on important information such as the hospital’s current hours of operation, what to do in the event of a hospital shutdown, how to prepare for or mitigate potential exposure to COVID-19, or the possibility of reduced work schedules. Open the discussion up to employees so that they can provide feedback and tell you what issues they may be facing in their personal and professional lives, such as challenges with childcare or stress management.
Encourage employees to review their personal finances, research if their monthly payment obligations can be deferred, and eliminate all non-essential spending. Employees may also consider reducing elective deferrals to health and retirement plans as well as reviewing their personal withholding allowances.
The most vital thing you can do for your hospital’s well-being is to remain calm and make sound business decisions. Our COVID-19 Resource Center contains links to information on tax deadlines, loans, business preparedness checklists, and more. For state-specific tax guidance, please see the American Institute of CPAs’ summary.
On the forefront of many owners’ minds is liquidity issues. The U.S. Small Business Administration is providing disaster assistance loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. You can also speak to your banker to assure that a line of credit is available if needed, that permission is granted to defer monthly long-term debt obligations, and that you are able to adjust payments to interest-only until the crisis has ended. Some banks have already announced loan deferral programs. It may also be worth considering reaching out to vendors to arrange new payment options.
You should also develop a labor plan for your hospital. If your hospital is reducing its operations to critical-only, consider how many team members are required. If your hospital is closing its doors for a period of time but maintaining telemedicine access, plan for the necessary team members. Remember, front office staff is still needed, especially if you are conducting telemedicine appointments and billing.
Keep a close eye on inventory levels so that you can determine which essential medicines and antibiotics need to be ordered. You should also speak to distributors and manufacturers to assure that adequate supplies of these essential items are still readily available.
While there is still a whirlwind of uncertainty surrounding the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, following these guidelines should help prepare your veterinary hospital for the long-haul. We continue to monitor situation and will provide details on updates and new guidelines as more information becomes available.
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