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COVID-19, News, Public Health

A Look at COVID-19 From Our Editor in Chief

Kara M. BurnsMS, MEd, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry), Editor in Chief

Kara Burns is an LVT with master’s degrees in physiology and counseling psychology. She began her career in human medicine working as an emergency psychologist and a poison specialist for humans and animals. Kara is the founder and president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians and has attained her VTS (Nutrition). She is the editor in chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse. She also works as an independent nutritional consultant, and is the immediate past president of NAVTA. She has authored many articles, textbooks, and textbook chapters and is an internationally invited speaker, focusing on topics of nutrition, leadership, and technician utilization.

A Look at COVID-19 From Our Editor in Chief
No one knows better how COVID-19 is affecting the veterinary industry than our Editor in Chief and Director of Veterinary Nursing, Kara Burns. We asked her some questions pertaining to clients, patients, and veterinary staff and practitioners. didesign021/shutterstock.com

As COVID-19 is sweeping the world and impacting all areas of business and social interactions, we asked our Editor in Chief and Director of Veterinary Nursing, Kara Burns, how she sees this virus affecting the veterinary industry.

Are clinics taking extra measures, such as deep cleaning?
Clinics are implementing a number of new protocols to align with the CDC recommendations for COVID-19 in an attempt to keep the hospital team, the clients, and the patients safe.

Hospitals are asking clients to reschedule if they or a family member are sick, even if the signs are mild, or if you are quarantined after travel.

Hospital teams have implemented social distancing (6 feet) with a client’s 2-legged family members and surfaces in the veterinary clinic that are touched frequently (examination tables, phones, keyboards, doorknobs, countertops, pens, stethoscopes, weight scales, etc.) should be cleaned often and wiped down by team members with disposable wipes between cleanings. Eliminating potential fomites is key. Proper, increased handwashing protocols have already been in place within the veterinary community; and increased focus on handwashing is being implemented. Hospitals are cutting down on the use of plastic folders for patient files. Additionally, if a client signs paperwork, consider giving them that pen to take home. Some clinics are recommending weighing patients at home so the scale at the hospital is not used, as this is another area of potential contamination. Many are following the recommendation to provide no-touch disposal receptacles. Additionally, hand sanitizers are being provided in many hospital locations, including in exam rooms, offices, and front desk to encourage hand hygiene.

Hospitals are encouraged to not schedule elective procedures or non-time essential preventive care at this time. Animals that are ill should be seen.

Regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hospitals are being conscious regarding their use, as a potential shortage is expected throughout medicine (masks, gloves, gowns, etc.).

Telemedicine is being considered or utilized by more veterinary teams during this time. These veterinary teams have an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship and determine a telemedicine visit is appropriate for the medical concern to be addressed.

Many veterinary clinics have started to meet clients with sick animals at their cars, rather than them bringing the pet into the hospital waiting room and the veterinary nurses are wearing appropriate PPE. Additionally, many hospitals are calling clients ahead of their appointment time to take a history and get as much information as possible to again minimize contact and exposure.

Are support staff hours being cut?
This varies and is mainly anecdotal at this time. I cannot say definitively at this time.

What is the vet nurse’s role in terms of educating clients?
The Vet Nurse is the key to educating clients – they have been and now more than ever continue to be the team member responsible for client education. Clients are frightened, information is misunderstood, information is rapidly changing. Veterinary nurses are providing the current information about how COVID-19 impacts the hospital and most importantly the patient. They should remain calm, continue to educate regarding the pet and the reason that pet has been seen. They should reinforce the reasoning behind the protocols that are in place and how they support the recommendations from the CDC.

Do we have a sense of what kind of an impact this is having on revenue?
I do not have definitive data at this point, but with elective surgeries being postponed and people in general being asked to perform social distancing or even in some cities shelter in place, I anticipate that revenue is being affected.

Are clients really concerned about their pets?
Yes! Pets are members of the family and in this unprecedented time, owners are unsure as to the nature of COVID-19 and its effect on pets.

What’s the financial impact on this already low-paid segment of the community?
At this time I think it is too early to tell, but the potential impact could be huge. If elective procedures in both human and veterinary medicine are being postponed and with social distancing and shelter in place, veterinary hospitals may not be as busy as prior to the pandemic, and thus downsizing may occur. At the same time, veterinary hospitals are being resourceful and are utilizing their veterinary nurses in pre-history phone calls, pick up and delivery of patients to those sheltering in place or self-quarantining, assisting in telehealth, and many other innovative approaches to medicine in these extraordinary times.

With all the anxiety in general about this virus, is it overstating to say it’s amplified within the veterinary community (alongside other health professions) because they can’t work from home and financial concerns are amplified? What can be done to help alleviate this?
I think the financial concerns are amplified as financial issues have been in the forefront of veterinary medicine for some time and with all the unknowns in this extraordinary time these concerns are intensified. However, I believe veterinary and human medical professionals are empathetic and compassionate, which is why we got into this profession in the first place, so I do not think continuing to work at the hospital is creating more anxiety. The amplified anxiety I believe comes more from the concerns that many are facing – children at home and who is watching them, parents and grandparents that are higher at risk, etc.