The emergence of curbside veterinary care during COVID-19
Like most industries in 2020, veterinarians had to adapt to rapidly changing coronavirus-related business closures. As the pandemic began, veterinarians had to rapidly find new protocols for providing client service while keeping employees, clients, and pets safe. Because of this need, curbside care emerged as a useful alternative to traditional care, allowing providers to see patients while keeping clients out of the lobby and exam rooms. The curbside care model created an opportunity for veterinarians to continue to operate, and even thrive, while restrictions remained in place.
Today, many geographical areas are lifting restrictions and returning to pre-pandemic operations. Some practices are looking at curbside care as a continuing addition to their services. For many practitioners, curbside care has evolved from an emergency procedure to a revenue grower.
Although the adoption rate for curbside care is high, there are still practitioners who might be reluctant to keep offering this form of care at their offices. By continuing to provide curbside care, veterinary practitioners can have the chance to grow their revenue and cater to their clients’ preferences for convenience.
While there are challenges associated with keeping curbside care as an option, the benefits often outweigh the transition efforts. Veterinary industry trends suggest that curbside care can improve revenue and streamline care for all parties involved.
Veterinary industry trends
The veterinary services industry recorded steady growth in recent years leading up to 2020, due to several factors:
Households with a dog visit a veterinarian 2.4 times per year, while cat households visit 1.3 times per year, according to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Pets are living longer. Advances in animal health technology, along with better pet nutrition and care, have led to an increased average lifespan of companion pets, and an accompanying increase in the need for veterinary care. This longer lifespan also increased the demand for routine care and chronic disease management of older companion pets.
Now that many pet owners carry pet insurance, the industry’s most expensive services are more affordable.
All of this growth drives revenue for veterinary professionals.
Providing veterinary care in a pandemic
At the beginning of 2020, many veterinary practices took a revenue hit when they were shut down entirely or limited in what they could offer and how many patients they could see. In some states, industry operators were deemed essential, but not in all. As a result, the impact to revenue for most operators was initially negative. According to a survey conducted by Independent Vets early in the period, 75% of veterinary hospitals reported a drastic reduction in revenue of more than 20%.
As these hospitals were allowed to reopen, most recovered in revenue and even grew. An IBISWorld report shows that 2020 ended with an 8% revenue increase due to more pet ownership and the corresponding demand for veterinary services.
Industry revenue may have been driven by surging pet ownership, but it was sustained by adapting nimbly to the operating challenges posed by the pandemic. The majority of providers implemented new policies and procedures, such as curbside care, to limit client contact. Curbside policies may include:
Asking clients to wait in their vehicles during treatment
Contactless payment processing
Conducting patient history on the phone or virtually
Client visits by appointment only
Drive-through pickup and drop-off
Using telehealth technologies – such as videoconferencing – for visits where appropriate
While every practice adapted protocols to their own situation, the curbside model helped them follow distancing guidelines that allowed them to stay open and continue caring for patients. In many instances, however, these extra measures increased patient care time. According to a study from New York State Veterinary Medical Society, some practices estimate that they added up to 25% more time per patient than standard care.
Curbside care challenges and benefits
Initially, most practices that adopted curbside care did so to make the best of a challenging situation. As the world moves into a post-COVID era with few or no restrictions on customer contact, some businesses plan to revert to their pre-pandemic models. Some veterinary practitioners simply don’t want to continue offering curbside care because they feel it’s less efficient and makes it harder to connect with clients.
There are also many practitioners who discovered there are benefits to adding curbside care to their list of services. Not only can they streamline some of their operations, but many clients find that this type of care suits their needs as well.
Practices who choose to continue to offer curbside services must examine their workflow going forward. They need to look at curbside veterinary care as an important part of their business model, not just a stopgap solution. As they examine their procedures, here are some challenges to pay attention to and address:
Caregivers must find ways to build relationships with their clients, especially when face time with pet owners is reduced or eliminated.
Payment systems must be able to work curbside to ensure a good customer experience.
Some clients find it a logistical challenge to make two trips to the office – one to drop off their pet, and one to pick up.
Most owners view their pets as family members. As a result, some may be uncomfortable with dropping their pets off.
Depending on the practice’s location and facilities, curbside care can be challenging to operate in bad weather.
While there are challenges with providing curbside care, there are also benefits to both veterinarians and clients that make it worthwhile:
Curbside care can be convenient for dropping off patients for surgery or other routine procedures and can also save staff time and relieve patient congestion in offices by reducing the number of clients waiting with their pets.
Some owners prefer to drop off and pick up their pets instead of waiting in the lobby, choosing to use the time during the procedure to take care of other tasks.
In some instances, pets are more relaxed during the exam, because they haven’t had the stress of waiting in an unfamiliar lobby with other animals around them.
Some clients now purchase food and medicine online, saving additional time at check-in or check-out.
Practices who want to continue offering a more permanent solution should examine their procedures. While at some practices curbside was fine as a temporary measure but may need updating to ensure an easy, more convenient solution for both staff and clients. There are several different ways to structure curbside services. Veterinarians who want a long-term curbside solution for their patients should consider some of these options:
Provide designated parking spots for drop off and pick up, or have outdoor seating.
Add phone lines to the practice so staff and clients don’t tie up the practice’s main lines.
Provide consistent communication with clients by using phone and email scripts.
Automate as much of the check-in process as possible by using email, web form, or phone prior to the appointment.
Have video chat available for owners who can’t come in but still want a face-to-face consultation.
Update the practice’s website and social media with curbside care instructions and answers to frequently asked questions.
Convenient payment solutions for curbside healthcare
Expanded care options are here to stay for many veterinary practices and new curbside clinics. These services offer a way to accommodate a growing client base and grow business revenue, while maintaining a high standard of care for patients. Curbside healthcare can be an efficient, profitable service for veterinary practices.
Offer clients safe, secure, and convenient ways to pay, thus, encouraging payment.
Create preference and loyalty for the veterinary practice.
Rectangle Health’s Practice Management Bridge® platform solves the challenges of providing curbside care by connecting client and provider through improved communications and convenient payments. Developed exclusively for healthcare and ideal for veterinary practices, Rectangle Health’s Practice Management Bridge platform:
Offers convenient, contactless payment solutions.
Expedites payments before, during, and after care.
Stores patient data in a reliable, secure backend.
Improves communication between practice and clients.
Interfaces seamlessly into any practice management system.
Replaces outdated processes with digital automation.
Allows for functionality to be leveraged across locations.
Implements quickly with easy, remote installation.
Makes recurring payments possible for patient financing.
Practice Management Bridge helps veterinary practices to streamline their operations. Completely touchless from check-in to check-out, clients can use their own device, and you’ll simplify your workflow with these benefits:
Rectangle Health, a leading healthcare technology company, empowers medical, dental, and specialty practices with seamless and secure technology to drive revenue by increasing patient payments and streamlining practice management and payment processing. Since 1993, the company’s innovative solutions have reduced administrative burden and rebalanced the ledger for its thousands of healthcare providers in the U.S., reliably processing billions of dollars in payments annually.
Rectangle Health focuses on keeping practices financially healthy so they can prioritize care. The company’s flagship product, Practice Management Bridge®, interfaces with all existing practice management systems. This innovative platform includes features like contactless capabilities, customizable messages, online payments, patient financing, and Text to Pay that digitize payments and engagement for ease.
Headquartered in Valhalla, New York, Rectangle Health has been repeatedly named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies.
Rectangle Health securely stores healthcare payment information, protecting both your practice and patients with today’s highest standards for compliance and PCI.