July 21, 2021 Vet Life

Emerging from 16 Months of Social Distancing

Veterinarians examine a dog

Emerging from 16 Months of Social Distancing

I saw my first “real” clients in 16 months last week as AMC slowly starts to reopen to pet families (see our “About Your Visit” page for the latest protocols and policies). After the difficulties of the past months, the experience seemed somewhat surreal and I will share my experience and feeling as a veterinarian in today’s blogpost.

Reverting to Pre-Pandemic Routines at AMC

Part of reopening involved reverting personnel and spaces to their intended functions. Exam rooms are no longer socially distanced office space housing one doctor per room. Yellow “do not enter tape” and movie theater type barriers have been removed from our 8th floor waiting area. I saw someone from housekeeping cleaning out the refrigerator near the client coffee machine and restocking creamer for coffee. I was happy to see the place look more like its old self.

When AMC abruptly closed to all but essential workers and sick animals, our standard operating procedures underwent a complete overhaul, overnight. Assistants, who normally help hold patients for blood draws or nail trims, became animal transporters from the lobby to the service and back. Receptionists moved from the second floor to the first floor to check pets in and out. Veterinary staff instantly learned the telephone extensions of colleagues they frequently consulted with, and all of us became conference call experts.

The Outdoor Reception Area Has a New Function: Overflow

Not everyone feels safe coming inside the building, and we’re keeping the climate-controlled outdoor reception area for those preferring to wait there. In addition to providing a safe waiting area outside AMC, the tent will help AMC manage the sudden influx of pandemic pets and their families. Compared to pre-pandemic times (June 2019), the number of patient visits in June 2021 has increased by 12.4%. The tent can handle overflow when waiting rooms become too crowded.

COVID-19 Anxieties Persist

After more than a year of sanitizing, masking and social distancing, being face to face with a client again was a little unsettling. Even if you are vaccinated, the news about the delta variant is concerning and breakthrough infections in those fully vaccinated are being reported daily in the press. Masks are still required at AMC, and each pet is limited to one accompanying human. An appointment with a specialist can be intimidating, especially when you must go it alone. For tips on making a visit to a veterinary specialist special, read this blogpost written at the height of the pandemic. Now that the employees can move more freely about within AMC, I felt the need to wash my hands more than usual last week and my hands are feeling it.

The Limitations of Remote Veterinary Visits

Talking with pet families on the telephone leaves much to be desired. I can’t read the client’s body language or facial expression, robbing me of my ability to see that tears are starting to flow. I only recognize this problem when I hear sobbing through the receiver. It’s a terrible way to communicate difficult news to a worried pet family.

Last week, during an in-person consultation, I could see the client’s carefully organized list of questions being checked off as I spoke about the plan for a cat with a mast cell tumor. So much better. Another in-person consultation resulted in a spirited discussion of the placebo effect and whether or not it applies to cats and dogs. Also, much better than a remote visit.

Let’s hope our reopening plan continues to proceed smoothly so we can see more of our patients for in-person visits. Please check our “About Your Visit” page for the latest policies and protocols.

Tags: COVID-19, curbside protocol, in-person visits, pandemic, remote visits, reopening, telehealth,

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