The Learning Curb: VetTech Solutions in the time of COVID
COVID-19 has proved a catalyst of sorts in the veterinary industry, accelerating the rate of change, especially with technologies and solutions related to the client experience.
With a background in IT, Mary Lopez wasn’t afraid to look for opportunities to improve both the practice management practices and the client experience at Boise, Idaho-based Hendricks Veterinary Hospital. Soon after starting her role as the hospital’s manager in February 2019, she learned of a pilot program through their corporate veterinary association with a system called SnoutID. SnoutID offers solutions for easy, fast, touchless curbside check-ins and patient intake supported by a team of veterinary technicians who retrieve, verify, and summarize medical records before a patient’s first visit.
“I thought it might be a good program to try,” Lopez said.
Hendricks Veterinary Hospital implemented SnoutID in the summer of 2019. The staff loved it, Lopez said, especially the receptionist team. “It helped with not having to contact other veterinary clinics for documents and waiting for electronics to be signed,” she said. “As more patients migrate toward mobile communication, having a system that allows them to check-in via their phone, collect data, and get an email trackback is beneficial.” With SnoutID, Hendricks Veterinary Hospital could have appointment reminders and client information compiled in one seamless process.
“After the pilot was over, my team asked ‘Why did it stop?’” Lopez said.
Fast-forward to March 2020. As regular business operations across the country ground to a halt, Lopez and her team sat down together to map out a strategy. First, the veterinary team discussed their comfort level of remaining open. Once it was decided they would remain open, they discussed ways they could continue to deliver services to clients.
These were all new conversations, Lopez said. There was no operating procedure for working amid a pandemic. “Nobody knew what they were doing,” she said. “I have to find out for my team how comfortable they were with seeing clients. So it was a very bumpy road in the beginning. A lot of people had a lot of fear and concerns, and a lot of clients stopped coming to appointments.”
Hendricks Veterinary Hospital took several steps to convert to a safer model of care. It closed its lobby and promoted its online pharmacy to clients, including a home delivery option for food and medication. And for those clients who did show up for their appointments, they would find the visit a much different experience than in the past – one in which they wouldn’t even walk through the front door.
Indeed, beginning in March, the curbside became the new focal point of client engagement for veterinary practices. In order to get up and running with the new way of delivering care, Lopez reached out to SnoutID.
Central to the pet owner experience
The SnoutID system was developed well before COVID-19 by the makers of Pawprint, a top health app on the Apple Store. The Pawprint app allows pet owners to connect their pet’s caretaker network around a central information source for medical records, feeding instructions, reminders, and even photos.
“What we realized is that the veterinary practice is really central to that entire pet owner experience,” said SnoutID CEO Emily Dong, who founded Pawprint in 2015. This July, SnoutID announced the sale of the Pawprint consumer brand to Metamorphosis Partners in order to focus exclusively on the SnoutID platform, which is targeted specifically to veterinary practices. “We have to solve the workflow from their level in order to be most effective,” Dong said. “What we realized is that our core functionality of leveraging centralized records was something that could save veterinary practices a lot of time.”
Hendricks Veterinary Hospital was one of the first hospitals to try out the system in 2019. Reception to the system was positive with how it could improve workflow and save time, Dong said, but for many, it was looked at as a white-glove service. “It fell into that ‘nice-to-have category’ where it improves the client experience,” she said. “But unfortunately, that was not necessarily top of mind because practices have so many things they’re dealing with every day.”
Then COVID hit. Almost overnight, practices began scrambling for ways to keep their patient volume afloat with social distancing restrictions in place. “We saw a lot of practices only doing half the appointments because of the additional time needed for cleaning and distancing requirements,” Dong said. “So any amount of time to trim off appointments became crucial because that was another entire appointment they could fit, and another couple hundred dollars worth of revenue during an economic downturn. And so that’s when it shifted from ‘Oh, this could save 15 minutes, that’s nice’ to ‘We don’t have a completely fully booked calendar and we’re losing revenue if we don’t streamline our operations.’”
SnoutID has several features that have helped practices streamline their operations. For instance, the system offers a touchless check-in system that allows clients to check in remotely from their own device. Other benefits include:
- Access standardized and verified medical records from any practice in North America.
- E-signatures and digital forms to avoid face-to-face contact and physical paperwork.
- Free up telephone lines and staff time.
- Fully customized with a practice’s own branding.
Dong said many veterinary practices she’s talked to are seeing more patients than they were pre-COVID using the system. “Part of that is demand because practices around them are closing and the fact that they’re staying open, they’re getting that business,” she said. “So the demand is definitely there and then the bottleneck to providing that service. And with the time we save them and check-in, they are doing even better than before. In the month of June, our practices are up 63% in revenue over last year.”
Through a collaboration with MWI, SnoutID was made available to veterinarian practices in early April across the United States to enable curbside operations. In fact, MWI Animal Health announced a series of technology tools that would enable veterinarian practices to virtually engage with their clients:
- ALLYDVM Two-Way Texting: MWI offered new and existing customers access to the ALLYDVM two-way texting feature at no cost for a limited time. The two-way texting allows veterinary practices to communicate with clients quickly and easily through the ALLYDVM portal and provide real-time updates on pets that are under their care while in the clinic, conduct post-appointment follow-ups and communicate about product purchases.
- Petriage Pet Telehealth Services: MWI offered Petriage’s state-of-the-art telehealth platform to veterinarians and veterinary practices throughout North America. The platform enables veterinarians to communicate with clients and even treat household pets remotely while also integrating the pets’ medical data effortlessly into their vet practice management systems.
“With the support of strong technology companies like Petriage and SnoutID, we can be sure that our customers can continue to drive high-quality and strong relationships with the pet owners they serve and enhance the care of their patients,” said Brian Topper, vice president of product strategy at MWI. “These services are relevant all the time, but the current environment really highlights their utility and value.”
Up and running
Lopez said it wasn’t difficult to get reacquainted with the SnoutID system. “They really helped us with the check-in process, and it helps being paper light,” she said. “We didn’t have to worry about sending out new client paperwork or anything that had to involve sharing contact with pens and paper. So it really streamlined the process with our curbside.”
However, it has taken some convincing for clients who aren’t used to or comfortable with technology. Lopez said they’ve done their best to train clients, and explain the benefits, which include minimizing contact between each other.
“I think this is the new normal,” she said. “I think I can tell clients this is the new way to practice medicine, to do it curbside. A lot of people are just not comfortable doing face-to-face or being in the same room anymore, and I don’t think it’s going to end. I think we are all going to have to jump on the bandwagon and get used to using technology like this.”
In August, Patterson Veterinary announced it had upgraded the NaVetor mobile app to make curbside and in-clinic patient care even easier.
Patterson Veterinary introduced NaVetor® cloud practice management software back in 2018. With the enhanced NaVetor mobile application for veterinary practices, practitioners now have the ability to complete most client-facing tasks from their phone or tablet, including adding new clients and patients, checking patients in and out, updating medical records, prescribing medicine, creating new invoices and accepting payments. This gives veterinary practices more options for efficiencies based on their workflow and preferences, and it is especially helpful for facilitating curbside care in light of COVID-19.
“NaVetor provides guidance for our customers to better run their businesses,” said Dan Holland, director of technology, Patterson Veterinary. “By putting that technology in customers’ hands through the NaVetor mobile app, we’re able to provide better speed and efficiency, saving them time and allowing them to complete tasks on-the-go rather than being tied to a laptop or workstation.”
Tasks that can be performed on the new mobile app include:
- Checking patients in using a mobile device, away from the front desk to prevent bottlenecks.
- Creating an invoice and accepting payment from a client while still in the exam room or in their vehicle.
- Forward booking the client’s next appointment, before he or she leaves the practice.
- Prescribing medicine.
“The most valuable resource for any veterinary industry professional is time,” says Holland. “NaVetor and the enhancements made to the mobile app maximize their time and allow them to move throughout their day in the most efficient ways possible.”
Streamlining the client experience: Contactless payment and the veterinary practice
In July, Vet2Pet, a customizable, all-in-one client engagement platform for veterinary practices, and credit card processing company Gravity Payments announced a partnership that would allow veterinarians to collect payments virtually through their hospital app.
With veterinary hospitals seeking ways to provide the essential services pet owners need while maintaining safe social distancing practices and adhering to local regulations, many have been forced to ask for credit card numbers over the phone, send payment links, or risk the safety of their teams and clients by exchanging cash, according to a release.
The partnership between Vet2Pet and Gravity Payments “helps to keep clients and teams safe, allows practices to collect telemedicine fees in the same app they use for appointments, gives pet owners the ability to prepay for medication refills, helps clients feel more secure submitting payments through their hospital’s branded app, and saves practices money by decreasing what they pay in merchant fees,” the companies said in a release.
“When COVID-19 hit us out of the blue, we knew that our customers were going to need technology solutions to continue taking care of clients and patients while minimizing staff interactions,” said Stacee Santi, DVM, Vet2Pet founder, and CEO. “We evaluated ways we could help and began working night and day on two-way chat, video sharing, and virtual payment through the practice’s app.”
The Vet2Pet client engagement platform gives pet owners the ability to do several things through a customizable app branded to the hospital, including:
- Schedule appointments
- Communicate with the veterinary team through two-way chat
- Send and receive photos and asynchronous videos
- Receive reminders and notifications
- Request medication refills
- Review the practice
- Earn rewards through the practice’s loyalty program
- Pay virtually
“Veterinarians provide an invaluable service to our communities by treating our beloved pets and animals,” said Dan Price, Gravity Payments’ CEO. “For years, Gravity’s dedicated Vet Team has prided itself on getting to know the unique needs of this industry, so we can better serve veterinarians and they can better serve their patients. We are thrilled to be partnering with Vet2Pet to allow veterinary teams a contactless payment option, so they can continue to offer care while keeping their clients and employees safe during this difficult time.”
For more information about Vet2Pet’s new Virtual Payment feature, visit http://vet2pet.com.
1-Photo credit: istockphoto.com/LAByrne
2-Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Natali_Mis
3-Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Tero Vesalainen