We’re over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world is tired, and veterinary professionals are experiencing an extra dose of exhaustion and frustration. Add to this the increase in demand for services that many veterinary hospitals are experiencing, and it’s no wonder there has been an uptick in conversations and social media postings from veterinary colleagues wishing for a return to normal.
Gentle reminder: Normal wasn’t great (so let’s NOT go back there!)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally understand wanting the enhanced level of chaos, stress and frustration to decrease; I even understand the desire for it to be the way it was. After all, the mind will always find comfort in familiarity…even if that familiarity includes stress and frustration.
What the mind doesn’t like is uncertainty, and right now the whole world has that in spades. Because of that, in this moment, the veterinary industry has an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally change the culture and future of the practice of veterinary medicine; changes that will improve patient care, client service and, most importantly, work-life balance and personal wellbeing for ourselves and our teams.
The one thing that is certain? Change is happening.
Not that long ago, the idea of hosting entire veterinary CE conferences online was deemed impossible and utilizing a drop-off system as a primary business structure for full-service veterinary practice was considered ludicrous. Within the last year, both became necessary. Today, these continue to be the norm. Tomorrow, they can continue to exist…if we want them to.
The truth is, YOU get to decide how you want to practice veterinary medicine. I think somewhere along the way we forgot that part—we adopted a collective belief that we had to offer all things, to all people, at all times. We created business structures that didn’t simultaneously support, at a human level, the people who worked there. We disregarded what we individually wanted and needed. We have decades of statistics and experiences that show us the tragic results.
Resisting change—even change we want—is normal. The resistance is anchored in the fear over the backlash of our client base and, thus, perceived potential loss of revenue. But, right now, with the entire world in flux, it’s the perfect time to act. People are expecting changes and we’ve gotten used to things changing in all areas of our lives since the arrival of COVID-19. It’s not going to get easier than this in regard to the human component.
To help you get started dreaming and brainstorming about what’s possible, I’ve got three out-of-the-box ideas to consider:
1. Self-hosted mass preventive care events
Many hospitals are experiencing a backlog of preventive care appointments and simultaneously booking weeks out for these services. There is opportunity to serve these clients in dedicated preventive care service events (e.g., running a vaccine/HW/Fecal clinic in your parking lot). This will not only help clear the backlog in your preventive care case load, but also frees up appointments for true medical cases. The clients will appreciate the efficiency, too!
Tip: Communication is key! Clients must be well informed that these are preventive care only visits. Any medical conditions found during the physical exam will require a separate appointment. And, by the way, we should be doing this anyway.
2. Minimize cross-training and increase the use of staff members in dedicated, key roles
There are two areas where having consistent, dedicated staff members will greatly increase hospital efficiency, client satisfaction and patient care: Consent Coordinator and Surgery Team.
This role is for the person on your team who is the very best at speaking to clients about treatment plans and money. They understand every line item on a treatment plan and the purpose behind them. They also have a good understanding of how a treatment plan can be adjusted if the client declines the initial doctor recommendations. They are familiar with the payment options your organization offers and can facilitate payments over the phone. They are also comfortable talking about money and do not take client reactions personally.
Curb-side has highlighted the real need for efficiency and confidence in discussing treatment plans and pricing. Many doctors and staff are spending way too much time back and forth on the phone sorting these things out…and many pass off these conversations to avoid them. The result? Time inefficiencies, confusion, and lack of standardization in recommendations and gaining consent.
By creating the dedicated role of Consent Coordinator, your organization will not only benefit from a streamlined process regarding treatment plans, consent and payment, but your medical staff can get back to focusing on treating patients which will decrease appointment time and increase client satisfaction
This role consists of two to three (+) people whose sole job is to facilitate patient surgery. This includes pre-op labs, prep, anesthesia, surgical assistance/monitoring, post-op and discharge. The benefit? Improved patient care, decreased anesthesia accidents and increased efficiency, which will likely increase the number of surgical cases that can be scheduled per day.
The key here is dedicated staff. These people should not be pulled away to restrain for another appointment, refill a prescription or take an unrelated phone call. They must be allowed to focus on the surgery rotation to keep it moving smoothly. This will allow them to enhance their skills, develop a rhythm and establish trust with the veterinarian.
As a result, veterinarian workflow becomes much more efficient. When supported by a trusted surgery team, the veterinarian can do their initial physical exam, sign off on the anesthesia plan and then continue with other duties (writing records, refill authorizations, necessary phone calls, etc.) until it’s time to perform the surgery. Once complete, they can leave post-op to their trusted team while they once again focus on other duties.
By creating a dedicated Surgery Team, not only will patient care and client service improve, your team members will actually enjoy their jobs much more because they are able to utilize the knowledge and skills they were trained for. And, don’t forget, the increased efficiency and pattern of workflow is good for everybody.
3. Appropriate delegation
There are two main areas where improving delegation of responsibility will have a massive impact on daily work flow, patient care and morale: Call Backs and Client Education.
Only about 10% of client calls need to be returned by the doctor (no matter what the client says). The remaining 90% can be returned by a veterinary technician or assistant under the doctor’s guidance. Instituting this system has many benefits:
A) It reinforces the concept of the veterinary healthcare team to the client and, given time to adjust, clients will accept (and even request) talking to a trusted technician or assistant as an extension of their primary veterinarian;
B) It keeps the doctor focused on doing the things only they can do (diagnose, prescribe and surgery);
C) It improves overall efficiency and workflow because doctors are not stuck on the phone in non-critical conversations.
There are a variety of topics we regularly educate clients on…vaccine protocols, diet, exercise, spay/neuter, parasites and prevention, dental health, urinary health, diabetes, thyroid disease, ear infections, atopy and so on. And one of the greatest frustrations for the veterinary team is when they educate a client and then at a later date it becomes clear that the client didn’t understand. Many of us conclude they didn’t listen, but I’d argue that’s not the case.
When we throw a bunch of information at a client, particularly when it involves a new diagnosis for their pet, it is overwhelming. On a good day, people only retain about 20% of what is told to them—under stress, it’s less—and add to that the differences in learning styles (not everyone is an auditory learner!)
The solution? Visual backup! It has never been easier to create educational PDFs to print out and send with the client. They can take a little time to create on the front end, but once complete, the same document can then be used over and over. They can also be emailed.
In addition to PDFs, educational videos are also super easy to create and inexpensive platforms exist to host them. You can include a link (or even a QR code) on a handout or in your discharge instructions or receipt prompting the client to review the additional information.
The benefit? The client has an opportunity to learn and integrate the information you’ve provided between appointments so the next time they come in or call, they come with useful questions instead of total confusion and the need to start again at square one. This not only makes client interactions more efficient, it also improves patient care and service. +