Every day, there are hundreds of tasks that must be completed to keep a veterinary hospital operating smoothly. These tasks are shared amongst all the team members and departments. Keeping everything going smoothly and cohesively can be a challenge, even for the most well run hospital. Despite that challenge, you and your team are doing an overall great job! However, there is always room for improvement.
As a veterinary practice management consultant, I regularly observe a number of factors that still need some TLC. Sometimes practices are not even aware of these factors as it is hard to see the forest for the trees when you are so tangled up in the day-to-day activities.
So what can you improve? Check out these 5 areas.
Improvement No. 1: Enhance Staff Training and Support
One of the biggest areas for improvement is related to your veterinary staff. While unfortunate, it is common practice in this industry to hire someone, toss them in with little training and expect them to swim. Then, when they sink, the hospital leaders are frustrated. When the new employee fails, it has negatively impacted them, the hospital and the client/patient. We owe it to our team to show them kindness, treat them joyously and to give them the resources they need to succeed.
Staffing can be difficult. Presently in South Carolina, there are about 1,700 licensed veterinarians and only around 400 licensed veterinary technicians. That is a ratio of less than 1:4. We don’t have a good measurement of how many non-licensed yet experienced support staff exist, but I can say that finding a quality candidate is increasingly difficult according to what my colleagues and I have experienced in the past year. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that unemployment is at its lowest rate since 2007. With so many people working, if your practice is hiring you must execute unique hiring strategies to recruit top talent. You must prove that your practice is the best place to work.
Beyond the training of new employees, the lack of training extends across the board. Team members are always so busy “in role” that it is difficult to pull them away for adequate meetings and training. Attending a large conference in great, but there should be regularly scheduled meetings in the hospital for training purposes. It would be ideal to turn off the phones and lock the door. Announce this in advance so your clients are prepared. There are countless free resources for training — YouTube videos from some of our industries most respected consultants are right there waiting for you. There are countless resources right here on VeterinaryPracticeNews.com too.
Staff training goes beyond the technical skills. A successful practice will also invest in the moral and the culture. Remember: “The leaders ARE the culture.” This means that the leaders must lead by example. If you want your team to be caring, compassionate and give perfect customer service, then you must behave the same way. “Do as I say, not as I do” has NO place is a veterinary hospital!
Improvement No. 2: Improve Customer Service
Ultimately our industry is a service industry. Your veterinary hospital may practice exemplary medicine but if there is even one team member that isn’t giving perfect customer service, well, Houston we have a problem! Every team member must prove that they care at all times and the practice leaders must provide ways for them to do so.
This is one reason your hospital should have a Code of Conduct. They should be trained to project positive energy towards their teammates and the clients. Hospital protocols should dictate that everyone goes the extra mile to serve the client — there are countless ways to do this — a few wonderful things I’ve seen include walking clients to their car (especially with an umbrella when raining), offering a beverage table in the waiting area, and at Bees Ferry Veterinary Hospital where I am the Hospital Administrator, we have a Care Coordinator in the lobby that entertains guests, plays with children, etc. during their wait time.
Customer service is about treating yourself and others with kindness, selflessness and joy. It is about proving that you care. A wonderful training source for this is the work of Brendon Burchard. He is a world-renowned personal development trainer whose tips and techniques will teach you how to live a fuller life thereby allowing you to show grace and compassion to those around you. I utilize his techniques in my management style and encourage you to check him out on YouTube.
All too often, veterinarians and veterinary team members are so busy that they are rushing to perform multiple tasks at once. In those moments, they forget to slow down and give each client their undivided attention. They forget to remain calm and patient. The result is that the client and their pet are negatively impacted by that anxious energy the team member is exuding. This does not facilitate a productive visit and creates an unhealthy atmosphere that negates the ability to bond and build trust with the client.
Attending a yoga class can provide some great insight to styles of communication that are peaceful and positive. Taking your team out to a 5-star restaurant can be fun and also double as training by having them report on the level of service they experienced.
Improvement No. 3: Scheduling/Time Management
As a veterinary practice management consultant, I regularly observe how inadequate scheduling and poor time management can impact the efficiency of the hospital. There is no simple answer and every hospital is unique. If appointments are too short, the hospital will inevitably get behind. The result is a team that feels rushed and clients that are unhappy about the wait time. If appointment slots are too long, then the hospital can lose time and we know time is money. Learn how to stagger different types of appointments — wellness or sick. Having multiple sick cases in a row can really ruin your chances to stay on time. Mix in some rechecks or wellness visits that are brief and routine. Train receptionists to triage during the phone call to predict how much time might be needed for lab work, radiographs, a laser treatment or something else that will extend the time spent with the client/patient.
Improvement No. 4: Start Forward Booking
Every veterinary practice is failing to capture some amount of revenue that is readily available. One example is failing to forward book. The dental industry is wonderful about this. Before you leave your dentist’s off, what do they do? They go ahead and schedule your next routine visit in six months. However, in veterinary medicine, as much as we’ve heard about this idea, I still don’t see it being regularly utilized.
Let’s make an example: In one week, say your practice sees 20 cases (ear infection, eye infection, hotspot) that receive treatment. However, none of those are encouraged to come back in 10 to 14 days to be rechecked. If the recheck visit is $35 and just half of those cases did come back for a recheck, that is over $18,000 in lost revenue over the course of a year. And that doesn’t take into consideration any other ancillary services/items that the client might buy during the recheck visit. The other part of this is the missed opportunity to make sure the patient is truly healed and to maintain a bonding relationship with the client.
Before a client leaves your practice, it is so important to schedule their next visit — and schedule it BEFORE giving them today’s bill. They are less likely to book a future visit after paying today’s bill.
Improvement No. 5: Maximize the Reminder System
I have yet to meet a veterinary practice that believes its reminder system is functioning at maximum production. Reminders can become very convoluted and cumbersome to actually enter and track. There are so many things we may want to remind for and having your practice management software do it successfully is a challenge.
Practices also need to run audits to confirm that reminders are entered properly. It is embarrassing to send a client a reminder for a vaccine if the doctor previously advised the client to discontinue it due to a cancer diagnosis for example. In that case, the doctor or technician would have needed to turn that reminder off. The other part of an audit is to identify patient charts that don’t have reminders in place.
Dr. Hank Swartz of the company Boomerang Vet has an extensive background in analyzing the power of reminders. Boomerang Vet can help your practice analyze your existing reminder system and provide invaluable feedback and guidance on improvement. Dr. Swartz reminds us that reminders are an integral part of the practice’s marketing plan and on average, his company has been able to help practices realize a 31 percent increase in weekly reminder revenue. That is significant!
Reminders can be done in a variety of ways, including traditional mailings, email and phone calls. There are pros and cons to each, so I encourage you to do your research and work with companies like Boomerang Vet to maximize this powerful practice growth and customer service tool that is your reminder system.