Fifteen months ago, we were forced to pivot hard!
Practically overnight, we modified patient visits, limited client contact, relied on telemedicine, donned masks, washed hands thoroughly and often, and sanitized every surface. In the midst of these changes, practices confronted rising demand for veterinary services, increasing physical and emotional exhaustion among staff, and more and more clients misbehaving due to anger and frustration caused by quarantine, restrictions, and fear.
My heartfelt thanks to colleagues and staff who rose to the challenge. The long hours, unsustainable workloads, and unrealistic expectations were overwhelming, but employee perseverance made it possible for practices to transcend the obstacles imposed by the pandemic and even thrive.
Although the world continues to battle COVID-19, vaccinations have helped businesses resume regular operations that were in place before March 2020. We are now poised to move forward, but let's not dismiss what occurred over the past 15 months and, instead, draw on these insights to plan for a post-COVID-19 existence.
Observations and considerations for future planning
"What's past is prologue" is not a new phrase, but it is timely. It speaks to the idea that history is a preview of what is to come. The pandemic is not a once-and-done occurrence. It happened, and it---or another monumental event---could be repeated. Our ability to respond to the next event that disrupts the status quo can be improved by reflecting on the way in which practices addressed a number of issues. For example:
Patient outcomes---The primary goal of the practice is to improve patient outcomes. As we all worked to cobble together strategies to promote the health and well-being of patients, some may have had a greater impact on improving patient outcomes than others. Examining which of the newly adopted strategies were effective can pinpoint those that could be more fully developed to enhance future operations.
A digital future--Many practices scrambled to ramp up telemedicine last year. If the practice does not have a strong telemedicine component, perhaps now is the time to strengthen the infrastructure and incorporate it into daily operations. The client's continued use of digital tools will depend on whether they are widely available and easy to use. With a dependable system, practices can make the switch to telemedicine if conditions necessitate it.
Prioritize preparedness: Review how communications were handled during the pandemic and isolate elements that were effective, replace elements that were not, and identify gaps. Good communication during a crisis is essential. Adopting a plan that promotes policies and protocols increases the probability that the practice's response will be swift and effective.
Shore up current systems---No need to reinvent the wheel. Determine which existing systems were effective and decide which ones need to be adjusted or modified, replaced, or added.
Focusing on strategy
More than ever, practices must think strategically about the future, which means being prepared for a number of threats and disruptions. If we've learned anything, we've learned that anything can happen. Preparing for another pandemic or a resurgence of a variant is not outside the realm of possibility. Large-scale disruptive events go beyond health issues. Active shooters, terrorist behavior, and weather-related events can shut down businesses. In one year alone, many communities have faced above-average tornado activity, historic winter storms, and wildfires. We must direct our long-range planning efforts toward the unexpected. The future may be uneventful, or it may be filled with unprecedented challenges.
While involved in the planning process, consider how the practice's culture can impact future plans. For example, if a practice that is emerging from the pandemic has managed to maintain a united team, it bodes well for the future. If team members were stressed out, fearful, and at odds with one another due to pandemic stress, improving the culture and motivating employees should be a priority.
COVID-19 and strategic planning
COVID-19 hasn't changed the goal of strategic planning, but it has complicated the process. Practices can be successful in their planning efforts by ensuring the plan is flexible and designed to respond to the unexpected. Strategic planning should also be ongoing, with regular reviews scheduled to decide what is working and what is not. Periodic reviews make it possible to adjust direction as events transpire. Finally, developing the plan is important; the real value often lies in the process itself.
VHMA is back!
September 9-11, 2021, marks the first time VHMA will hold an in-person Annual Meeting and Conference since 2019. Reconnect for Success will be held in Philadelphia. I am excited to meet face-to-face with colleagues, participate in top-quality education, and celebrate VHMA's 40th anniversary. I hope to see you there!
Michelle Gonzales-Bryant, CVPM