Power Tool: Miami-Dade Animal Services’ game-changing, lifesaving electronic surgery list

December 11, 2017

Wish you had a feline lifesaving power tool? Miami-Dade Animal Services does! This innovative Challenger is using (free!) technology to fast track cats at intake.

Miami-Dade Animal Services is a busy place. The Florida Challenger receives about 50-80 animals daily, achieving a live release rate of over 90 percent for dogs and around 89 percent for cats.

Amazing numbers, indeed, and so is the strategy behind them. MDAS’ Chief Veterinarian, Maria A. Serrano, DVM, sat down with us to explain some key components in the agency’s lifesaving success — a finely tuned intake process — and how they got there. (Spoiler alert: A single but mighty Excel sheet helped drive it forward.)

The challenges they faced

About 4 years ago, MDAS took a close look at all their processes with an eye to increasing efficiency. At that time, they were using a handwritten list kept at the front counter to keep track of cats ready for spay/neuter surgery. “Whenever a pet would get a hold to go home, we would write it on the list, and the clinic techs would hourly walk up to the front counter and make a copy to the check the animals scheduled to have surgery the following day. We had people running up and down the shelter making copies, and often we would lose or not have the most updated version—resulting in a huge mess,” said Dr. Serrano.

Similarly, techs at intake would record the services provided on hard copies, along with any medical concerns found during the physical exam, and then enter this information in Chameleon when a computer was available. “If a paper got lost, however, we would miss all the information provided to pets on intake,” recalls Dr. Serrano. And if the records weren’t completed and updated in real time, “sometimes the services would make it to the medical record with a 24-hour delay.”

Three things that made all the difference

As a result of their initial troubleshooting, MDAS changed the surgery list to an Excel sheet on a Google drive, allowing everyone live access to see which animals are on the list for each day. “This was a huge breakthrough!” Dr. Serrano said.

And about a year ago, MDAS made two other important tweaks. “We ran through the entire process and brainstormed ways to make it easier for everyone. As our new shelter is so large, going back and forth between areas is just not so efficient.” As a result of this brainstorm, animals are added to the surgery list on intake, taking the process to a whole new level of lifesaving.

“We also changed the stray hold to three days for dogs,” adds Dr. Serrano. “Cats have no stray hold, which makes it even easier to fast track them.”

View MDAS’ hold policies.

Their take on intake

Here’s how MDAS’ new and improved intake process works:

  • Intake personnel — two vet techs for dogs, one for cats — work with two computer screens at receiving: One has the surgery list pulled up, and the other, Chameleon, in order to add services provided.
  • On intake, cats get FRCPC, flea (Fipronil and, if infested Comfortis), deworming meds (Pyrantel + Ponazuril), and are microchipped. “We will test FIV/FeLV once adopted,” Dr. Serrano said.
  • The tech administers the services and places the animal on the surgery list for the day of their due out (Day 4), unless the animal is too sick, too injured, too young, or too old. (In these cases, they will need a vet to approve.)

View MDAS’ SOP for Intake Services.

A closer look at MDAS’ electronic surgery list

“Over the next three days, some animals will fall out of the list for medical reasons or will leave, such as RTOT,” said Dr. Serrano. “The day before surgery, we have a tech review the list to make sure everyone is healthy for surgery and that we have enough animals to have a full day. We tried to not have this step, but we were not having enough animals, or sometimes animals who we considered not fit for surgery were getting on the list.”

View a sample Surgery List, and see what it looks like before and after surgery. 

If there aren’t enough animals on the list for any reason, the supervisor will complete the surgery list with “Ready to Go” (RTG) pets. These are animals with no adoption holds, but who are fit for surgery.  Dr. Serrano added, “We also fill the surgery day with TNRs, depending on how many TNRs are pending surgery.”

To ensure proper medical follow-up of cases, MDAS started a recheck calendar using Google Calendar. The tool keeps them informed about which animals have to be checked on which days.  “This has also worked extremely well for us, and for the pets needing rechecks!”

Now that’s Million Cat efficiency

Today at MDAS, most dogs and cats who can have surgery are ready for adoption by their due -out date. “And only those not due out, too sick, too small, too young, or too injured are not sterilized,” says Dr. Serrano. “I think the three-day stray period for dogs, the electronic surgery list and having staff at receiving to provide services, complete records on the spot and add to the surgery list are key.”

Her advice for Challengers waiting to give this system a try? Simple: “Do it,” she encourages, “and troubleshoot it for your specific needs.”

For more information on intake processes, visit UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program’s Shelter Intake and Pathway Planning section, covering design and layout, general guidelines, and procedures.

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