As a former practice owner, I can remember asking myself the same questions over and over.
- “Do I really have control over anything?”
- “Why can’t I work smarter instead of harder?”
- “What can I do to make us more efficient?”
- “Does anybody else feel this way?”
I remember one day in particular that burst out of nowhere like a perfect storm. It was one of the most overwhelming days of my career. And it occurred while I was still working solo in my (at the time) mixed-animal practice. Without going into details about the day, in the midst of it all, here’s the thing that made it so memorable: One of my vet techs stopped me and said, “Dr. Pearson, look at your ring!” My gold wedding band had developed a distinct green tint all around. No, we had not used any chemicals other than what we’d use on any other day. I had not treated any cows for foot rot. And, that’s the first and last time it’s ever happened. I’ve never tried to research this, but I’ve always believed it had to do with an over-the-top level of stress.
The real cause for the stress: I had not prepared our practice to maintain efficiency as it grew over time.
Boosting Efficiency is Within Your Control
Maintaining a high level of efficiency can solve a lot of the challenges we all deal with as veterinarians.
But, let’s face it; the nature of veterinary practice makes efficiency a real challenge:
- No two days are ever alike.
- Every day seems filled with interruptions.
- Emergencies often occur at the worst possible time.
- Is there any other profession that requires its leaders to wear so many “hats?"
- Doctor, of course;
- Compliance expert.
- Medical knowledge across multiple species and disciplines
- Then there are all those factors outside of our control:
- Growing burden of regulations;
- High cost of education for new grads;
- Trends in public opinion;
- The ups and downs of the economic climate.
Still, the level of efficiency is at least one area where we can exert control.
As Dr. Dennis McCurnin said this in the article, “Efficiencies Can Improve Bottom Line” for Veterinary Practice News:
“Most practicing veterinarians want to be compensated at a higher level of income. The only way to generate more revenue is to increase the number of patients we see per day or increase the average charge per patient.”
In light of his advice, consider the following statement:
Practices that are highly efficient can command higher fees and serve a larger number of patients.
- As Dr. Joel Parker wrote in an article called "Team Efficiency in the Veterinary Practice" at StandingOvationPractice.com: “Increasing team efficiency will not only increase your income, it will also make the practice a much more pleasant place to be and everyone will do a better job. That, in turn, will attract more clients, improve compliance, increase referrals — the whole shebang!”
- Sooner or later, we all realize that a healthy flow of income solves a multitude of problems.
- So, once we’re convinced of the value of efficiency, what are practical steps we can take to become more efficient?
- Of course, a great deal has been written on the subject and plenty can be found with a simple Internet search. But here are 5 tips that might be worth considering.
No. 1: Maximize Technology to Your Advantage
- No practice can afford to ignore the plethora of existing technological tools and keep pace with the profession. It’s been said that a business without a website does not exist in the eyes of new clients.
- Dr. Hank Swartz wrote the following in the "Essential Elements of Marketing and Communications for Veterinary Practices" for LifeLearn: "The stakes are too high, the communication landscape for veterinarians is rapidly evolving, and we must keep pace in order to maintain our influence on pet owner behavior. Practices have the available resources. In order to be successful, we must devote the time and discipline to set up our systems to proactively direct the actions (of) our current and prospective clients.”
- Like it or not, technology is changing and growing at astounding rates.
- To be efficient, most practices benefit from outsourcing technical marketing and communication tools. After all, the last thing most veterinarians need is another “hat” to wear!
No. 2: Hire People Based on Attitude
- Efficiency will never rise above the synergy between the people who work in a practice. A person with outstanding skills who doesn’t fit in with your office culture may turn out to be a significant hindrance to efficiency.
- According to Andrew Greenberg and Leadership IQ’s Global Talent Management Survey: “A shockingly low percentage of new hires succeed in their new positions. More than 80 percent of new hires have the technical skills, but fail. The key to reducing high hire failure rate is to revisit your processes and focus on hiring for attitude. This doesn’t mean you don’t pay attention to technical skills. Just don’t make technical skills your main focus.”
- What you know changes, who you are doesn't. As Peter Carbonara wrote in an article for Fast Company called “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill,” “Popeye was right: ‘I y'am what I y'am.’ The most common — and fatal — hiring mistake is to find someone with the right skills but the wrong mindset and hire them on the theory, ‘We can change ‘em.’”
- People with a great attitude are far more likely to contribute to winning teams. A big reason is that their focus is on “we” instead of “me.”
No. 3: Train Employees Early, Often and Thoroughly
- Efficiency won’t happen unless people understand what is expected of them and they receive clear guidelines about how to do their job.
- Training must be a priority, even when a busy week coincides with the first week for a new employee, which is what usually happens, of course.
- Training should include an understanding of the core beliefs and mission statement of the practice.
- Training reduces costly turnover.
- As the article “How Employee Training Benefits Everyone,” at HCareers.com says: “It's no secret that staff development provides employees with valuable knowledge they need to perform their duties proficiently. But, just as the ripples of a pebble dropped into a pond radiate throughout its ecosystem, so do the benefits of employee training extend to everyone in your [practice].”
- On a website called Learn Management2, in an article called “Employee Training”: “As the business world is continuously changing, organizations will need to provide their employees with training throughout their careers. If they choose not to provide continuous training, they will find it difficult to stay ahead of the competition.”
Clean up your mess! Research shows that the more clutter there is around you, the less efficient you'll be.
No. 4: Reduce Office Clutter
- I’ve been told you can tell what a person’s life is like by looking at their desk and the interior of their vehicle.
- No doubt, clients get a vivid glimpse into a practice by observing the presence of clutter.
- Clutter has a direct effect on practice efficiency, too.
- According to Pat Heydlauff, president of Energy Design, writing in an article called, “Reduce office clutter to increase productivity, efficiency and profitability:” “Research shows there is a direct correlation between productivity and clutter. Productivity and profits decline when clutter and chaos rise. Do piles of paper, disorganization and information mismanagement take over your workplace while efficiency and effectiveness vanish right before your eyes?
“The National Association of Professional Organizations says, ‘Paper clutter is the No. 1 problem for most businesses. Studies show the average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers, which adds stress and frustration to the workplace while reducing concentration and creative thinking. The average executive loses one hour of productivity per day searching for missing information.’”
- Even though many practices have gone “paperless” with client records, things such as mail, journals, notes and client handouts require constant attention to keep them in order.
No. 5: Hydrate Your Team
- We all know the importance of keeping our patients well hydrated, so you’d think we’d remember to do the same for ourselves. But, do we?
- In a post called "7 habits of highly dehydrated employees" on his blog, dlvrit, Bill Flitter says, “Right now, 80% of you reading this are dehydrated. Dehydration results in over 500,000 hospitalizations yearly and results in $5.5 billion dollars in health care costs. A staggering sum for something so easy to fix.”
- “What does drinking water have to do with efficiency in a veterinary practice?” you say. Consider the following from this blog post called “Increase Your Productivity — Drink More Water” from Opti Staffing Group: "Scientific evidence clearly shows how being well hydrated helps our memory, attention, and motor skills, so making sure everyone in the office gets enough water will help everyone perform better cognitively.”
- Benefits of being well hydrated include:
- An energy boost
- Improved brain function
- Reduction of stress
- Better mood
- Prevention of headaches
The next time you feel out of control and find yourself working harder, try these tips to help you and your team to work smarter, instead.