Many practices have quite enjoyed having the space to deal with patients without their owners present. However, the time is coming when clients will expect to be able to come into the surgery with their pet. Are you looking forward to this?
We have asked a few clients for their views and here are some of the observations;
“We still have the chain on the door so we can control who comes in.”
“It’s nice to see people again, and it reduces some of the communication issues we have been having”
“Some staff are worried about the implications of catching Covid from clients, particularly if we all get pinged at once.”
“At the moment we are short-staffed and many vets, receptionists and nurses have not had a holiday for two years. So we can only manage a very small number of clients anyway. Restricting the flow to one client at a time seems to be working”.
“We are trying to reduce the number of people staying in reception to pay by sending electronic payment requests”
“Some clients are hesitant about coming back into the surgery. For these we do a mixture of remote consultations by email and phone.”
“We are still limiting access to only one client per animal in the surgery. When the client brings a child with them, we ask them both to wait outside.”
“Many clients had been apprehensive about leaving their pets in our care. One client even said ‘How do I know that you will really vaccinate him?' ( !!!) What do you say to that?"
“For insurance claims we definitely want to be dealing with the money side of things remotely rather than having the client standing at the reception desk.”
There are preparations that you can make to make this feel safer for clients and staff members, and to make life generally easier all round.
A key aspect will be to reduce time spent at the reception desk. One way of achieving this is by taking payments remotely, which means that clients can leave the building as soon as their consultation has come to a close. Simply send them a text with a link to pay online - in fact, if the consultation can be paid for in advance at the time of booking, then it will be even easier to just take payment for the medication and any other products after the event as the client will have already set up the channel and you can simply send a payment request by text. This also has the added advantage of discouraging no-shows and improving client cost-expectations.
Another area that can be easily tackled is allowing clients to book their own appointments online. This again will free up receptionist time and space in the waiting area.
It is really important to moderate client expectations as you make changes to your daily operating procedures - for example, if you expect clients to wait in their car until called in for their consultation, let them know before they arrive! This saves confusion and potential embarrassment, as well as time spent explaining at the door. Any information that can be sent automatically will also save staff time (always in short supply!). This could be via an automated text/email upon booking and on the morning of their appointment. Just remember to keep any correspondence concise - too much information and it won’t be taken in, so focus on the key points. Perhaps direct them to an information page on your website for any additional notes.
Waiting rooms are often small and ventilation limited. While this is not a problem in the summer when it is sometimes possible to put seats outside, when the evenings draw in and the weather gets worse, it will be unkind to expect people to wait outside. There are several ways of overcoming this. One is to undertake a greater proportion of the consultations remotely, particularly triage or taking the history. Another way of overcoming this is to continue to see some animals on their own while the owner waits in the car.
For mobile vets the time taken to travel between visits eats into any profit available. As traffic picks up again this will become harder still. Some have found that a mixture of in person and remote consultations can help both the demand side of things and effective use of time. However, there is some concern that the RCVS may stop allowing remote prescribing as things open up again, which will take away this valuable additional option. As it stands, the departure from this rule has been extended and is under continuing review.
If you or your clients want to provide remote consultations, make sure that you have a system in place for taking payment. After all it is still your time and expertise that is being used, even if this is just a phone call and a follow up email. We have found that taking payment for these consultations upon booking, rather than after it has taken place, eliminates the opportunity for a client to claim they weren’t aware there would be a charge - ‘it was only a quick phone call after all’.
We would love to hear how your practice is finding having clients back in the practice. Let us know any top tips we can share.