How are Practices Coping with the New COVID-19 Reality?  (Part III)

By VHMA Admin posted 07-23-2020 17:51


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April 2020’s survey explored the initial impact of COVID-19 on veterinary practices as well as the changes practices were making to cope with the pandemic.  In May’s survey, some of the same questions were asked to measure the difference a month had made and also delved into some new topics.   This month’s survey explores some of the change’s practices are seeing now, two months after the last survey, and about four months after the first impact of the pandemic was seen in veterinary practices.

Overall, the vast majority of practices responding report that both caseload and revenue are higher than usual for this time of year.

Almost from the beginning of the pandemic, some practices have reported very high growth in revenue and caseload, although the average practice “growth” in the first few months was negative.  While some practices are still struggling with revenue growth, most are now seeing higher than normal figures.

Practice operations, however, remain changed in most practices; almost 80% of the responding practices report they are staying in COVID-19 operational mode; this typically includes curbside service, split teams, mask-wearing, and enhanced cleaning protocols.  This is most likely due to the significant increase in COVID-19 cases in many areas.  About 4% of the practices never changed their mode of operation, and about 10% are resuming normal operations. 

About 53% of practices never changed their hours of operation, and another 25% did change their hours but have returned to pre-COVID-19 hours.

The National Bureau of Economic Research announced in early June 2020 that the U.S. economy peaked in February 2020 and is now officially in a recession.  We’ve been long overdue for this; typically, recessions occur every 5.5 years, and the last one ended in 2009.   When a recession occurs, pet owners often reduce spending, and this, of course, has an impact on whether or not practices increase fees.  When asked, “Since the pandemic started in March, have you overall increased professional service fees, kept professional service fees the same or decreased professional service fees?” the vast majority of respondents indicate they have kept professional service fees the same with a small percent of practices increasing fees.  About 60% of practices say their clients don’t seem any more or less concerned about fees than they were before the pandemic.  This may be due to additional federal unemployment payments, the support of jobs via PPP loans; clients are in areas and industries less impacted by the pandemic or clients have more money for veterinary care because they aren’t spending it on restaurant meals, massages, mani/pedi’s and other non-essential items.  It is important to note, however, that almost 30% of the respondents said that clients are more concerned about cost but still accepting the recommended treatment. 

The pandemic continues to be difficult and stressful for employees, whether that means losing a job or still being employed but running the risk of catching the virus, juggling a job vs. staying at home to take care of children or adapting to new ways of doing things in a busy environment.

Fortunately, most veterinary practice employees are still employed and will still be employed when the pandemic is over, according to the respondents of this survey. 

While many practices have adapted to the new-but-ever-changing-normal, that doesn’t mean it was easy or that it is easy now.  The last question asked:  “What pain points are you currently struggling with most (identify your top three, and only three)?”

It isn’t a surprise that staff mental fatigue was the most highly selected answer.  The second most highly selected reason (client irritability) is, of course, one of the drivers of the first issue as are the next three (staff physical fatigue, shortage of staff, and increased client visits.)  The “other” answers either elaborated on the choices available or mentioned the inefficiency of COVID-19 procedures as another pain point.

Read the full report, VHMA July 2020 Insiders' Insight