Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Veterinary clinics remain open, but need to be vigilant

Frankie is helping Jane work from home, but has demanded a new feeding schedule.

On Friday night, the Federal Government announced that veterinarians are an essential service and remain open:

The Federal Government considers the role of veterinarians essential to the agricultural sector and therefore to our nation’s food security but also in protecting companion animals and our nation’s wildlife. 
The Federal Government has not put any restrictions on veterinarians other than the practice of social distancing and hygiene practices during the COVID-19 crisis. While confusion has arisen due to the closing of some state borders, those state governments have assured us that veterinarians are able to continue to operate across borders.

Most veterinary clinics are changing the way they practice, and globally there has been a tendency to implement low and no-contact consultations to minimise human to human contact and thus reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

This is the best way to protect both our human clients and our veterinary team members, though it does make everything feel different. We ask screening questions about the health of the owner, i.e. have they traveled within the last 14 days, do they have Covid-19, are they in quarantine?  Its strange to be a vet routinely asking questions about human health but here we are.

We are discouraging walk-ins and encouraging people to phone ahead, to avoid crowding or congregation in the waiting room. We are encouraging only one person to bring an animal in where possible (as opposed to the whole family or a group of friends).

Instead of spending time in a consultation room with a client and their animal, the client now leaves the animal for me to examine, I perform an examination and take a history from the client on the phone, and then we discuss whether any further tests or treatment are required. The animal is then discharged to the client, whom I might wave to at a distance.

I conduct my examinations in PPE – a full gown and mask. I thought this might freak my patients out but they seem to get it. And on the whole they are coping well without their owners in the room (some appear to be less stressed, occasionally they appear more stressed). They still get treats (unless contraindicated), and a nurse helps hold them. Some owners are very anxious so in some cases I've examined animals in front of them, through the windows of the building. It would be nice not to have to do this but people do understand.

The new normal? Ready to consult in PPE.
There are going to be issues when demand for PPE exceeds supply. The AVMA have provided some information about this here: https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/guidelines-ppe-covid-19-pandemic-demand-exceeds

To me the biggest challenge is socially distancing BETWEEN veterinary team members. This is critical as anyone can contract the virus and may be asymptomatic. While we are reducing the risk of transmission between clients and veterinary teams, we have to be equally conscious of reducing the risk of transmission between colleagues. Infectious disease guru Scott Weese has provided some guidelines here: https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2020/03/articles/animals/dogs/social-distancing-within-veterinary-clinics/

The other issue is stress. Like everyone, veterinary team members are vulnerable to anxiety, depression and work-related stress. For many people, Covid-19 – the challenges it presents, including its associated restrictions on personal freedoms – has ramped that up. Cathy Waburton, founder of Making Headway, us running a free webinar on coping in the Covid-19 crisis. You can sign up here: https://www.vet-webinar.com/en/webinar-live/webinare/coping-in-the-covid-19-crisis/

Readers are welcome to send photos of their animal family members working from home. Today’s post features Frankie, who is keeping Jane company as she works from home. Frankie has insisted on a new feeding routine, so now has half of her dinner at 3.30pm and the other half at 6pm (as opposed to dining at 7).

Jane is doing a brilliant job increasing the frequency of meals but not the daily ration. One thing I noted consulting during Covid-19 is weight gain in companion animals. Don’t cave in to those demands for more food!