Maximize Technicians’ Potential as Client Communicators
By Jessica Tremayne
Posted: October 2011
When technicians excel in the medical and communication components of their jobs, they can maximize revenue and encourage a more efficient practice. Consultants say, however, that many veterinarians aren’t delegating enough responsibility to technicians.
Training is the biggest hurdle that keeps practitioners from using technicians fully, experts say, noting that members of a practice’s team should share responsibility for client communications. Technicians are often viewed by clients as easier to approach, perhaps less intimidating.
“Years ago, veterinarians hired animal lovers and people haters and tried to make them technicians,” says Jim Guenther, DVM, MBA, MHA, CVPM, a consultant at Strategic Veterinary Consulting in Asheville, N.C. “Now with formal training for medical certification and client communication, technicians need to possess both skills to be effective. Technicians can be a practice’s biggest asset or handicap in regard to client loyalty and compliance.”
Technicians need formal and in-house education before gaining access to clients, Dr. Guenther says. They also need to know veterinary expectations and restrictions regarding client interaction.
Hire for Skills
Efficiency in the practice starts with hiring, says Shannon Pignott, CVPM, ACC, owner and business director at 1-10 Pet Emergency and president of VetThink Inc., both in San Antonio.
“Technicians drive business in veterinary hospitals,” Pignott says. “When hiring, look for candidates with a healthy level of self-esteem, professionalism and high technical competency. In general, technicians should run the hospital while veterinarians run medicine.
“When vets have been doing all of the kinesics and medical work in the hospital, they eventually have a light-bulb moment and realize they need to rely more on technical staff,” Pignott continues. “When vets do it all, they’re attaching a 100-pound backpack to themselves and restricting production.
“Technicians [need to be able to] go over a health care plan [estimate] with clients, explaining why each procedure or line item is necessary,” Pignott adds. “A veterinarian’s time should be used elsewhere in the practice and other staff members might not have the medical background to explain the need for the veterinarian’s protocol.”
Even when training isn’t a concern, technicians aren’t always properly or sufficiently used.
“Often there’s a lack of a clear vision for the role of technicians in a practice,” says Tracy Dowdy, CVPM, founder of Management Resource Group Consulting LLC in Euless, Texas.
“During a typical veterinary exam, 80 percent of time spent with clients should be with technicians and 20 percent should be with the veterinarian,” Dowdy continues. “Time techs spend with clients instead of the veterinarian means the vet is free to see other patients and move onto revenue-building tasks.”
Dowdy says veterinary practices are in the “people problem-solving business,” and technicians play a role in making that happen.
“Communication isn’t a big part of formal technician training,” Dowdy says. “This is a concern because it’s not a focus in veterinary school, either, leaving a void in skills needed to have a successful practice.”
Dowdy says clients can feel intimidated by veterinarians who often speak in technical terms. Technicians, however, can translate the jargon into something they can understand. Technicians who spend time with clients and listen to their concerns can also provide another route for compliance.
Advocates Through Experience
“Veterinarians’ best assurance that technicians are advocates of the level of care the practice promotes is to find a way to let the staff’s pets have the same level of care,” Dowdy says. “When income restricts staff from caring for pets the way the practice wants clients to, it’s a less genuine sell. Vets can report veterinary care provided to staff pets as staff compensation or pay for pet health insurance premiums.”
Guenther agrees, adding that technicians can be paid handsomely depending on their experience and region, but generally the profession lags behind others in compensation.
“When technicians are paid appropriately, they’ll have more motivation to perform well,” Guenther says. “In addition, well-paid staff means better retention rates.”
Amanda Donnelly, DVM, MBA, ALD, of Veterinary Consulting in Rockledge, Fla., and president of Vet Partners Clermont, Fla., says if veterinarians and their staff focus on revenue alone, clients may walk.
“There must be a balance with social dialogue, education and driving compliance,” Dr. Donnelly says. “Technicians are the primary point person in the practice for clients. Not leveraging techs in client communications is the biggest missed opportunity in practices.”
Clients of successful practices bond with multiple team members, Donnelly says, but technicians should be the first team members a client sees when acquiring TPRs and the last before they leave.
“It is well known that clients relate to doctors differently than staff,” says Craig Woloshyn, DVM, owner of Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting Services in Spring Hill, Fla. “With advanced training, CVTs play a critical role in client retention, education and satisfaction in addition to ensuring better patient care. If practices use techs properly, all areas of communication are enhanced.”
Pignott recommends having technicians discuss with clients the core areas of importance, which doctors determine.
“Nutrition, allergies and hospice care might be top focal points for a practice and veterinarians should utilize technical staff to educate clients in these areas as they apply and field questions,” Pignott says. “If veterinarians alone plan to cover all areas of pet care with clients, important points will be missed.”
Catherine E. Holly, CVT, for Atlantic Animal Hospital and Wellness Center in Charlestown, R.I., and president-elect of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) in Washington, D.C., says as technicians are relied on more in the practice, education will be more a standard than a perk.
“It’s a concern when veterinary staff call themselves veterinary technicians without education to back the claim,” Holly says. “Veterinarians need to know information told to clients by their technicians is accurate. Technicians should have a checklist they go through with clients prior to the veterinary exam. Often clients ask questions during this time.”
Holly says education is important in validating technicians’ role in the practice and with clients.
“Communication skills with members of the veterinary healthcare team and clients are required components of the curriculum for an AVMA-accredited program,” says Karen Brandt, DVM, assistant director of the AVMA Education and Research Division. “An efficient use of the veterinarian’s time would be to utilize technicians to cover the more routine matters with clients.”
Donnelly recommends veterinary journals, webinars, local/regional/national conferences and DVDs or online courses for communication education.
“Credentialed veterinary technicians provide veterinarians with skilled staff for their healthcare team that assist the veterinarian in providing quality medical care to their patients,” Dr. Brandt says. “Graduates of AVMA-accredited programs have acquired a thorough education in the knowledge base, decision-making skills and technical skills required of a veterinary technician. The lack of availability of graduates from AVMA-accredited programs in certain regions may have been an understandable reason for employment of untrained individuals in the past. However, the rapid growth of AVMA-accredited programs in the last several years and a marked increase in the number of graduates should make this less of an issue.”
No matter how competent the technician, veterinarians should always deliver bad news to the client, Holly says.
“Whether it is poor lab results, poor prognosis or death, a veterinarian should give clients all bad news,” Holly says. “This is just a professional standard.”
While technicians can comfort clients and make their experiences better, it’s up to the veterinarianto determine technicians’ duties.<Home>
“Veterinarians need to improve their own concept of their job and determine activities they are performing now that a tech should do,” Pignott says. “Every time a vet does a job a technician could do, they’ve lost an opportunity to improve revenue–taking money out of their own pockets.”
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