How are Practices Coping with the New COVID-19 Reality?

By VHMA Admin posted 04-17-2020 21:54


The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed our world in a way that no one saw coming. Some of the changes will likely just be short-term, but others may change how veterinary medicine (and the world) operate in the long-run. No doubt, the longer the pandemic runs, the more permanently changed we will see our world. VHMA’s April 2020 Insiders’ Insights survey focused on understanding how veterinary practices are managing amid the pandemic. The survey looks at four groups—changes in practice operations, impact on the veterinary team, technology, and telehealth usage, and the impact of the pandemic on practice finances.

Changes in Practice Operations

The majority of practices have made operational changes to reduce people to people contact and comply with new recommendations/regulations regarding what services practices can offer and how they can/should offer. Here is what we learned from responding practices:

  • 44% of practices reduced their service hours
  • Sick pet, emergency services, and medication and food pickup were the top three services provided to clients.
  • 93% of practices are accepting new patients
  • Increased disinfection, curbside pickup, and drop off, and staff only in the hospital are the top three safety procedures hospitals are employing to mitigate virus exposure.
  • 77% of practices think PPE limitations will reduce their ability to provide services by 1-20%
  • 40% of practices have seen a 1-20% decrease in patient visits, and 39% have seen a 21-50% decrease
  • Practices saw an unexpected increase in nail trims, pharmacy and food items, sick pet visits, new puppy and kitten visits, grooming, dog bites, euthanasia, Telemedicine, and new clients.

Impact on the Veterinary Team

Not only is the pandemic difficult and stressful for the practice and practice owners, it is also challenging and stressful for employees. Being an essential service is a good thing because it means many people still have jobs, unlike in the restaurant business. However, having contact with team members and clients increases the risk of catching the virus, and some employees are juggling jobs vs. staying at home to take care of children. Although many practices are still open, some are not, and some have reduced their services and their staffing levels. It is a very tough time for all. Here is what we learned from responding practices:

  • 64% of practices have reduced staff hours
  • 62% of practices reduced staff hours by 1-20%
  • 34% of practices have laid off or furloughed staff
  • 23% of practices expect layoffs and furloughs
  • 49% of practices have reorganized how their staff work
  • 28% of practices reorganized staff into teams
  • 90% of practices indicated that 1-5% of their staff have tested positive or have needed to be quarantined due to exposure to Coronavirus

Technology and Telehealth Usage

The use of technology and telehealth platforms in veterinary practices isn’t a new thing. Still, the pandemic and related concerns about people to people contact have increased interest and usage of both. Here is what we learned from responding practices:

  • 65% of practices have added new technology to improve practice operations
  • 30% of practices started offering Telemedicine services (requires a VCPR), and 30% are considering it.
  • 14% of practices are using Airvet for their Telemedicine services, 11% are using TeleVet, and 8% are using PetDesk
  • 9% of practices recently added Teletriage (not requiring VCPR)

Impact of the Pandemic on Practice Finances

Any event that causes a widespread decline in the usage of veterinary services leads to justified concern about the financial stability of practices. The pandemic by itself is reducing usage in many practices, but what is also of concern is the impact of the pandemic on our economy on an ongoing basis. We won’t know for sure we are in a recession until we’ve seen two-quarters of no growth in the economy. Here is what we learned from responding practices:

  • 27% of practices have a 1-2 month reserve and 26% have a 2-3 month reserve
  • 71% of practices have a line of credit available
  • 92% can go 20 days before they need to seek financial assistance
  • 65% of practices anticipate they will take advantage of tax credits, 48% expect they will take advantage of stimulus package loans, and 46% expect they will take advantage of SBA Disaster Assistance Loans

For more survey details, review the full VHMA Insiders’ Insight April 2020 report.