• 36°

Coronavirus is changing procedures at animal clinic

Coronavirus! COVID-19! Pandemic! The stock market is down, the economy will sputter. Everyone is now aware of the pandemic and beginning to understand why it is important.

Just thinking about it makes one feel queasy and feverish.

When I swore my oath as a veterinarian, a key part was to protect and promote public health. To be fair, most of our population will be alright, with mild symptoms that barely slow them down. The problem is that not all will have mild symptoms and almost everyone will get the disease. It is highly contagious and if too many people get it all at the same time, it will overrun our health system.

That affects all of us! My red-tailed hawk taloned my hand significantly last Wednesday. I worried that I might need a hand surgeon to deal with the potential infection. But if my hand surgeon, or their staff, is pulled into duty taking care of COVID-19 patients, I won’t get as good of care as I normally would. Luckily, betadine soaks and topical antibiotics and it was reasonably okay by today.

Meanwhile, all day, my Facebook feed and email listed closing events. The schools are closed. When I pick up M’Kinzy, she will not go back from the two-week spring break for an extra two weeks. Or more.

The Coast Guard Academy is canceling the women’s leadership conference. The Tom Ziglar Leadership Summit that I was headed to in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, has been reset for September. My writers’ group did not meet for reading and critique Friday night and the Saturday afternoon business meeting was postponed.

At Guardian Animal Medical Center, our preparation started well over a week ago. We set up an Amazon Alexis Echo that goes off every hour. Every hour, unless we have just washed our hands, we go to one of the 17 sinks and wash our hands with soap. We don’t necessarily stop what we are doing, but as soon as we finish, we wash our hands.

We wash them for 20 seconds with soap and water as the CDC recommended. We have recently added disinfecting all door handles that clients touch to the hourly schedule. Keyboards, mice and staff doors will be disinfected three times a day.

On Friday, we prepared signs for all exam rooms that say no handshakes, and hugs will be for pets only. (I purchased a Harris Hawk on a fist bump this morning.) We did not allow our college students to return to work while they are home for the spring break.

At times, I have missed the banter of a full waiting room of clients, because typically clients will wait in their patient’s exam rooms. Certainly, there will still be clients that cross in the waiting room, but with 10 exam rooms we will be fairly effective at keeping them from spreading germs to each other. We have only been using six rooms, but are opening up two more of our exam rooms for patients and clients. We are asking new clients to fill out their paperwork in an exam room. In the meantime, the banterless waiting room means less disease transmission.

We are asking people who are sick, self-quarantining or at high risk to call us from the parking lot. We will put you in line and come get your pet without you needing to come into the hospital at all. We can teleconference you in on the call and then take your payment over the phone.

Some of our rechecks can even be done from your home! We are in our preliminary set up and use of the Medici app, which allows for telemedicine. We must have a valid client patient relationship, which means I have to have recently seen the animal and am “personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the animal by virtue of an examination of the animal or by medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises where the animal is kept.” There is no substitute for a good five senses physical exam, but in some select cases, telemedicine can reduce the transmission of corona virus and “initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the animal.” And we are readily available for follow up in case of adverse reactions or therapy failure. To be honest, I have been skeptical of telemedicine for many years, but digital communications have improved and it is the way of part of the future. Often in the exam room, I will look at videos on client phones to see what the pet is doing at home or how it is housed. Now you won’t have to hand over your phone to me.

We are also moving forward with changing our online pharmacy to one with better service. We now ship out monthly heartworm, flea, tick, dental and treat packs and partner to send pet food to homes, but we are looking into delivering items to homes.

Finally, we don’t know what the future is going to bring. We hope it is not going to happen, but I have stocked up on several essentials to prevent supply line shortages. My staff is great and they help me accomplish many things, but without me, they cannot keep the clinic open. If I get sick or need to be quarantined, they may not be able to have full paychecks. Likewise, if they are sick or need to be quarantined, pay will be lighter than normal. At our staff meeting, I advised that now is not the time to buy luxuries. We are also not hiring that extra person just yet.

We know this could be a time of financial hardship for you also. So, we’ve voluntarily suspended billing fees for nonpayment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we’re offering to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19 our most flexible payment plans, and we will suspend late payment charges until May 30. While you are at home more, if you want to set up a payment plan for your overdue account, we will remove billing fees after an acceptable plan is set up.

Coronavirus is here. COVID-19 will be the pandemic that will make the history books. The stock market will do whatever it is going to do, the economy will sputter, but being aware of the pandemic, beginning to understand why it is important and preparing will take some of the fever and queasiness away. It is even possible that good will come out of this. Schools may learn to prepare to teach online students which is good for many students and situations. Innovation at Guardian Animal will help us reach the next level of care. Of course, I always try to find the good in all situations.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566