Guidelines to Running Veterinary Hospitals During COVID-19
We have to adapt and modify some expectations and be a bit creative. There isn’t a standard approach to this, but the general concept is clear: reduce the number of direct and indirect human-human contact points as much as possible. In a profession where our patients are accompanied by and live with humans, that’s not necessarily easy to do.
It might not be easy, but there are a number of things that can be done in a clinic to improve social distancing. These measures will likely get refined over time, as we learn more about the virus, its spread, and we see how things are working (or not) in veterinary clinics. A lot of fairly basic things can be done to reduce those critical contact points, including but not limited to:
A quick list of guidelines to use as a start
- Close waiting rooms
Admit and discharge patients via quick drop off at the front desk or directly from vehicles.
- No walk-ins for anything
People have to call ahead so plans are in place, whether it’s for an appointment or to pick up something like pet food. To get pet food or supplies, parents should call first so it’s ready for them when they show up.
- Electronic payments only
No handling of cash.
- Reduce the need for signatures
We’re trained to get signatures on anything but documenting verbal consent should be considered an acceptable alternative under the circumstances (that’s on my list of things I’m talking about to various regulatory groups at the moment).
- Disinfect Pens
If signatures are needed, the pen should be disinfected (e.g. collected from the person with a disinfectant wipe) or ideally, the parent should use their own pen (especially when you consider that pens go in mouths all the time (gross, but I’m a prime offender myself)). Ask the owner to bring a pen when they call before coming to the clinic.
- Screen Pet Parents
Screen parents before their appointments, keep sick people or people with travel risk factors out of the clinic
- Keep sick staff at home
This should be common sense but it’s cold and flu season, so there’s a lot of background infectious disease out there. While disruptive, we need to do this to contain COVID-19 and also to keep everyone calm. People aren’t as dismissive of someone coughing in their vicinity as they used to be.
- Cohort staff if possible
If clinics can keep groups of staff together, whether that’s based on time (shifts) or work within specific areas of the clinic, it might help reduce the risk of large numbers of staff going off sick if one is exposed.
- Hand sanitizers
Make sure hand sanitizer is available at all admission points (realizing we’re running low).
- Use Telemedicine as much as possible
Many follow ups and consults can be done remotely. We can’t vaccinate or do surgery remotely, but there are common conditions that can reasonably be diagnosed and managed from a distance, especially with the use of photos and videos from parents.
Stay up-to-date with the latest information
We are learning more every day
OSCHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19: Download the Guide
EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
The official guide to disinfectant: View the guide
AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association)
COVID-19 - What veterinarians need to know: Download the guide
Protocols for House Calls and Large Animal Veterinarian
The AVMA provides the following considerations for veterinarians with house call or mobile practices (small animal and large animal) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although little is known about SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 in humans) in animals, pets of COVID-19 patients are unlikely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans.
The following recommendations are based on proven techniques applied in many different disease outbreaks, consistent with the following “hierarchy of controls” (listed from most effective to least effective):
- Complete Guide from the American Veterinary Medical Association
- Consider use of Telemedicine when a veterinarian-client-patient relationship already exists. AVMA has resources to support the use of telemedicine at avma.org/telemedicine
- If seeing an animal during the quarantine period of a known COVID-19 patient is indicated, veterinarians should avoid entering the residence, if possible.
- Be familiar with CDC’s interim guidance for public health professionals managing people with COVID-19 in home care and isolation who have pets or other animals .
What you need to know
Veterinary Practice News has the most up to date information.