COVID-19 impact on veterinary practices

The impact of COVID-19 on the veterinary profession has been sudden, far-reaching, and varied. Across the country, veterinary practices have made tremendous changes to ensure patients continue to receive essential veterinary care and new safety measures are implemented to protect team members and clients.

The AVMA conducted two large surveys of practice owners in April and July 2020 to better understand how COVID-19 has affected veterinary practices. In all, we collected over 3,500 responses representing different practice sizes, types, and species. Questions covered operational changes, client numbers, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, financial impact, and other topics.

The results enable us to view a full picture of how COVID-19 has impacted the profession and forecast how the economic situation will evolve as the pandemic unfolds. They also offer deeper insight into the ways individual practices are being impactedfinancially, operationally, and otherwise. This knowledge advances the profession on numerous levels:

  • Identifies what strategies are working for the most successful practices and might be replicated by others.
  • Provides informed economic forecasts that help practice owners and others in the profession plan and prepare for what’s ahead.
  • Supports policy development and advocacy on behalf of veterinarians and practices.
  • Guides AVMA’s development of tools and resources needed to support the profession.
  • Provides data at the state level to help state veterinary medical associations understand specifically how practices in their area are being impacted, and how their state compares with others.
  • Informs and empowers the veterinary community to better plan, strategize, and succeed during COVID-19 and beyond.

What the numbers show

Operational changes and precautionary measures
Operational StrategiesPrecautionary measures

Practices have implemented a wide range of operational strategies and precautionary measures to continue providing veterinary care while limiting spread of the coronavirus and prioritizing the safety of team members and clients.

On the operational side, the most common approach has been asking clients to wait in vehicles during animal exam and treatment (curbside care). Other operational changes include contactless payment processing, taking patient history by phone or virtually, and drive-thru pick-up and drop-off.

Data show that between April and July, a small number of practices reduced several of these approaches. For example, in April, 84% of practices asked clients to wait in vehicles during treatment and in July that number had gone down to 73%. The number of practices implementing contactless payment processing and taking patient history by phone or virtually also declined during that time. In contrast, the percentage of practices taking client visits by appointment only increased from 56% in April to 75% in July.

The number of veterinary practices that reported using telemedicine in April and July remained constant at 32%. 18% of practices were seeing only emergency-related cases at the time of the second survey (down from 20%).

Precautionary measures have included asking clients to maintain social distancing, asking team members with symptoms of illness to remain at home, and canceling at least some appointments. As veterinary teams adjusted to life in a pandemic, we saw significant changes in the percentage of practices implementing specific precautionary measures between the two surveys. In April, 60% of practices had cancelled appointments due to the pandemic and in July that number was just 35%. A similar decline was seen in the number practices asking staff to sanitize PPE for reuse—down from 57% to 40%. On the other hand, the percentage of practices that had asked clients displaying symptoms to leave the clinic nearly doubled from 31% to 57%.

Business and financial impact
 
Business and financial impact

Nearly every practice reported a decline in revenue accompanied by a shortfall in cash/income necessary to accommodate practice operation. The average monthly cash shortfall across practices was $17,000 in April and $14,000 in June.

Virtually all practices experienced a decrease in client traffic during the first survey in April. In July, many practices were seeing an increase in client traffic compared to the previous year. Almost half of the responding veterinary practices in July saw an increase of 10 – 30% in client traffic.

Business strategy
Cash shortfall strategies

To address cash shortfalls and maintain cash flow, the most common strategies employed by respondents in April were applying for U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs (more than 60%), practice owners forgoing their own salary (nearly 60%), and pulling from cash reserves (also 60%) By July, these numbers had fallen. 39% of respondents indicated they had applied or intended to apply for a loan, and 48% of practice owner reported foregoing their own salary and pulling from cash reserves. The percentage of respondents indicating they would rely on a business line of credit or use a personal asset to infuse cash into the practice also decreased from 36% to 30%.

Information gathering
most relied on source of information

We also asked respondents where they are turning to get information about COVID-19, and 71% listed the AVMA as their most relied upon source of information. This was followed by state veterinary associations, and state public health and government websites. Ongoing efforts by trusted and reliable organizations to provide information and guidance will be critical as practices continue to navigate client needs and implement strategies to mitigate financial impact on their businesses.

Dig deeper

In all, we asked practices over 50 questions, ranging from when the practice first was impacted by COVID-19 to what clients are asking about, how practice costs and income have changed, how client traffic has dropped off, what activities and services have been canceled or are continuing, and much more. We’ve summarized all the survey responses in charts and graphs, and you can download the results here.

A note: The survey results from April have been updated in our most recent charts and may be slightly different than what was previously reported.

AVMA economists also performed a detailed analysis of April’s survey data focusing on four key areas: Overall impact, operating hours, cash shortfalls, and productivity. This report provides insights derived from that analysis and also covers strategic responses to COVID-19, including how practices adapted to the new environment as it continued to change.

Explore the data online

We’ve created an interactive dashboard to let everyone in the profession explore the survey data in depth. Delve into specific areas such as client traffic, cash shortfalls, SBA loans, operations, client contact, and more.

COVID19 practice effects report 2021

Resource

AVMA economists performed a detailed analysis of the survey results focusing on several key areas. Insights derived from that analysis are contained in this report.

Download report