Pet ownership reached an all-time high of 70% of US households in 20201, leading to skyrocketing visit volume at Vet ERs in 2020 and 2021. Animal Emergency Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, part of a larger chain of nation-wide clinics, needed to address the challenges of maintaining social distancing and trying to keep their workflow as low-contact as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. During weekends, visit volume could easily double. Inefficient, labor-intensive registration coupled with high caseloads created long wait times, unhappy clients, and frustrated staff. Kennel shortages occurred daily, with 12 hour waits just to get a pet into a kennel. If clients showed up in groups, it created bottlenecks that the staff had no way to divert or manage.
AEH implemented ER Express’ mobile check-in solution to let pet owners wait at home, receive and respond to text message updates, and see how many pets the ER already had in line.
In addition to making the clients and their pets more comfortable, mobile check-in gave an objective measure of the wait by showing how many pets they already had in line. Furthermore, ER Express’ secure two-way texting workflow helped manage client expectations without generating inbound or outbound phone calls – freeing up the staff to handle more complex and sensitive discussions on the phone.
The new workflow ensured that pet owners provided a full medical history and signed consent forms before they arrived. Previously, pet owners would drop off their pet and sometimes not return with the consent signatures until much later. During that time, the clinicians could not legally apply any treatment to pets whose condition they considered stable, but in high levels of discomfort or pain. Now that clients signed the stable patient form right away, the clinicians could alleviate pets’ pain much earlier in the process.
Since implementing mobile-check-in, registration time dropped dramatically: on average, it reduced the staff's time by 30 minutes per client. With AEH seeing 60 clients per day, this translates into 30 staff hours per day, and even more during the weekends, when volumes reach 130 visits per day. AEH estimates that this efficiency boost has increased their throughput capacity by 10 pets per day, from 40 to 50 pets, representing a 25% boost. Prior to ER Express, these pets would have waited longer or gone elsewhere for treatment. This throughput improvement not only benefited pet owners and their pets, it also improved the hospital’s finances by generating more revenue.
The combination of client self-registration and two-way texting decreased call volume and improved client communication. Most clients prefer communicating by text message, and staff can easily contact more clients at a time via ER Express’ secure texting application. The system eliminated an estimated five phone calls per client and improved communication by allowing staff to share more frequent updates with clients and avoid “phone tag.” For example, during their pet's four day stay, one client exchanged 31 texts (counting both inbound and outbound messages). Prior to ER Express, the AEH staff could not have sustained this level of communication via phone calls.
From a pet owner perspective, the mobile check-in system empowered them to advocate for their pets. 80% of clients have been able to complete the process without any staff assistance, freeing up the staff to spend more time with clients who do need help and to spend more time on complex issues that require live, synchronous conversation. Additionally, pet owners have more clear expectations about wait times. Before they check-in, they can see how many patients are already in line (via an ER Express API that updates the figure in real-time on AEH’s website). As soon as the staff see the mobile check-in, they can review and triage the situation and let clients know what kind of wait they may face. More stable pets may have a 48 hour wait, but the clients have saved themselves a trip to the hospital and can continue to wait more comfortably at home.