Originally published in the February 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!
A client arrives at 6 p.m. to pick up her dog, who had a dental treatment today. The veterinary technician who performed the procedure has gone home, and the doctor who extracted five teeth is running 30 minutes late for evening exams.
After waiting 25 minutes in the lobby, the client speaks with the doctor for five minutes before he rushes off to his last appointment. A veterinary assistant brings the dog to the checkout desk and hands the client her dog’s medication and home-care instructions.
This poor experience could influence the client’s decision to accept professional dental care in the future. Here’s how to create a five-star discharge experience.
1) Schedule the dental procedure on the day of diagnosis.
Most dental disease is diagnosed during preventive checkups. If you have computers in exam rooms, the technician can book the dental procedure now. If the client will check out at the front desk, the receptionist should schedule the procedure first, and then collect payment for today’s services. Today’s bill may cause the client to hesitate to schedule a follow-up procedure. The receptionist would say, “I see that Dr. <name> diagnosed <pet name> with Grade 1 dental disease. Let’s schedule your pet’s dental treatment first, and then I will get you checked out for today’s services.” An appointment reminder for the dental procedure will print on today’s receipt.
2) Set admission appointment to avoid the chaos of morning drop-offs.
Schedule admissions 15 minutes apart—see the example below—and have complex cases check in first. This allows time for preanesthetic testing as well as a longer recovery. Let’s say you have five surgical and dental procedures scheduled today with admission appointments from 7 to 8 a.m.
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When scheduling the procedure, explain what the client will experience on the day of admission. Use the two-yes-options technique to guide the client to schedule the needed procedure. Say, “We perform dentistry on Monday through Thursday, and patients are admitted between 7 and 8 a.m.Which day of the week fits your schedule? (Client responds.) We will schedule a 15-minute admission appointment with a technician that morning. Do you prefer 7:30 or 7:45 a.m.? (Client responds.) We will email you the anesthesia consent form and treatment plan four days in advance so you can review it, which will speed your check-in process. Let me confirm that we have your best email address.
3) Email treatment plans and consent forms in advance.
Email documents four days before procedures so clients have time to read the information and think of questions they want to ask during admission. If clients don’t have questions, they could bring the signed documents to the admission appointment.
4) Set expectation during confirmation calls.
Call clients one day before procedures to remind them of fasting instructions and to allow ample time for check-in. Remove “drop off” from your vocabulary and hospital forms. “Drop off” implies the admission process will take seconds—hand you the leash or cat carrier and go. Instead of “drop off,” say “surgical/dental admission,” which is more professional and communicates there will be a check-in process.
Say, “This is <your name> calling from <your veterinary hospital> to remind you of <pet name’s> surgical/dental procedure tomorrow. Please withhold food after ___ p.m. tonight. Your surgical/ dental admission begins at ___ a.m. with a technician, who will spend 15 minutes reviewing the consent form, answering your questions and getting phone numbers where we can reach you the day of the procedure. Please allow at least 15 minutes for <pet name’s> admission to the hospital. We have emailed you the treatment plan and consent form, which you may want to review before your admission appointment. If you have questions, please call us at 555-555-5555.”
Because clients need to clearly understand the amount of admission time necessary during their busy morning routines, this script uses the broken-record technique and has you repeat, “Please allow at least 15 minutes for <pet name’s> admission to the hospital.”
5) Set discharge time during admission.
When the technician admits the patient in an exam room, he will answer questions, collect signatures, set communication expectations and schedule the discharge time. Say, “I will call you after 1 p.m. when your pet is recovered from the dental procedure. If you have questions before then, please call and ask for me. Here is my business card. Let’s also set the time for your discharge appointment. We will discuss results of the procedure, share dental X-rays, and review medication and home-care instructions. We discharge patients between ___ and ___ p.m. You will spend 15 minutes with a technician or doctor. I have a discharge appointment available at 4:45 or 5:15 p.m. Which do you prefer?”
If a doctor will release the patient, put the appointment in his schedule. If a technician will handle, note the discharge time in the column for technician appointments. Knowing what time the client will arrive lets your medical team have medications filled and home-care instructions prepared in advance.
6) Contact the client when the pet is recovered from the procedure.
On your consent form, ask, “How would you like to hear from us when your pet wakes from the procedure?” Clients choose from phone call, text or email. Watch my YouTube video on how to text clients when dental and surgical patients wake at http://bit.ly/1TqyV35.
AVImark client communications allow on-demand messaging to clients by SMS text or email. Google Voice and Gmail Chat offer free texting services that time- and date-stamp conversations, which you could print for paper charts or save as PDFs in electronic medical records. Gmail Chat also allows you to attach photos and videos. You could include a photo of the technician lovingly cradling the patient in her arms.
As patients are recovered, surgical and dental technicians would log into a treatment-area computer with Internet access or use AVImark client communications to send text messages. The messages should:
- Explain that the patient is awake and resting
- Confirm the discharge appointment time
- Include the technician’s name, which is personalized service and communicates who cared for the patient. Should clients have questions before the discharge appointment, they know which technician to call and ask for. This lets the receptionist quickly connect the call.
7) Discuss the procedure and home care in an exam room, not the lobby.
So the pet won’t distract the client, keep the patient resting comfortably in the treatment area. In the exam room, the technician will discuss the procedure results, share X-rays and before-and-after photos, list signs to watch for at home, explain how to give medications, and demonstrate dental home-care products. The technician would ask, “What questions can I answer about the dental treatment and home-care instructions?” This phrasing invites the pet owner to clarify instructions and is more effective than “Do you have any questions?”
Once the technician answers the client’s questions, he would bring the pet into the exam room if he will collect payment there or meet the client at the checkout desk.
8) Explain that you will call later to see how the pet is doing.
Thank clients for their business and let them know when you’ll follow up. Say, “Thank you for the opportunity to care for <pet name> today. I will call you tomorrow to confirm that <pet name> is feeling well and to answer any questions you may have.”
Dentistry is a service that pets will need multiple times throughout their lives. Remember that clients’ entire dental experience—from check in to check out—will affect future decisions to accept professional dental care. What will your team do to improve the discharge experience?