At Main Street Veterinary Hospital in Flower Mound, Texas, every technician and client-service representative calls four clients per day with overdue-patient reminders. Employees submit completed call sheets daily to a manager.
Main Street Veterinary Hospital pays employees $5 for every overdue preventive care visit that gets completed.
"Some staff earn $75 to $80 extra per paycheck, so it’s a big incentive,” says Practice Manager MaryBeth Soto, CVPM.
If the hospital paid a $75 bonus, the employee would have booked 15 overdue preventive care exams.
According to the 2013 AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 8th edition, the total for an adult canine preventive health visit is $208, while cat owners spend an average of $186.1
Based on industry norms that 60 percent of patients are dogs and 40 percent are cats, you’d have nine dog exams at $208 each and six cat exams at $186 each for a total of $2,988—a great return on a $75 investment.
Talking to the Clients
While callbacks can produce immediate revenue, the primary purpose is to be patient advocates. Remember, dogs and cats can’t answer phones, check email or drive to your clinic. We must talk to their pet parents in order to get patients to return for care. The 2003 American Animal Hospital Association compliance study found 38 percent of pet owners surveyed would return for a medical progress exam or procedure as directed by their veterinarian if you followed up.2 Try these two easy-to-implement callback programs:
* Patients overdue for preventive care
When pets fall into the third reminder cycle, call clients to schedule exams. Your greatest success will be when patients are only three weeks overdue. Don’t wait three months or three years before following up. The more time that passes, the less important preventive care becomes. (See "Revitalize your reminders, watch income soar,” Veterinary Practice News, August 2013.)
When calling clients, their try cell phones first. Proper etiquette is to call cell phones between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. If calling home phone numbers, call between 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays when you’re more likely to catch clients arriving home from work or before weekend errands. Because calling pet owners during these high-traffic times may prove challenging, dialing cell phones gives you a more flexible 12-hour window.
If you get voicemail, leave this message: "This is Your Name calling for the doctors at Your Veterinary Hospital. We are worried that Opus is past due for his preventive care exam, vaccines, diagnostic testing and preventives and might now be unprotected. Will you please call us this week at 555-555-5555 to schedule his exam?”
It’s All in the Phrasing
If you talk with the client: "This is Your Name calling for the doctors at Your Veterinary Hospital. Opus is now overdue for his preventive care exam, vaccines, diagnostic testing and preventives. We’re worried about his health. When is a convenient time for you to come in for an exam this week? The doctor can see you at 6 p.m. Thursday or 9 a.m. Saturday. Which is more convenient for you?”
The phrase "calling for the doctors” communicates that your veterinarians are aware of the pet’s overdue health care and are genuinely concerned. The warning "may now be unprotected” is a call to action.
The phrasing about coming in for an appointment is known as the two-yes-options technique. In it, you offer the next two available appointments. This phrasing significantly increases the chance you’ll schedule an exam and is stronger than "Do you want to make an appointment?”
When explaining overdue preventive care, focus on four categories:
* Preventive-care exam
* Diagnostic testing
If you describe too many details, the client may hesitate to schedule an appointment. Simply say the pet is overdue for "diagnostic testing” rather than specifics such as an intestinal parasite screen, heartworm/tick screen, and senior preventive blood and urine screen.
When patients return for overdue preventive care, you’ll likely diagnose arthritis, obesity, dental disease and other health problems that require follow-up exams, treatments, medications and therapeutic diets. Those additional visits for professional services and products will generate more income.
* Dental treatments that were recommended but didn’t get scheduled
You explain a Grade 2 dental treatment plan during the exam, and the client nods yes. You assume she’ll schedule the procedure at checkout.
But like many clients, she walks through the mind-erase hallway from the exam room to the front desk and forgets to schedule the procedure. Because the client service representative wasn’t in the exam room to hear the client’s acceptance of dental treatment, she doesn’t know to schedule a procedure, either.
To prevent this communication breakdown, create a "dental recommended” code in your practice-management software. If you have paperless charts, enter the code in the exam room. With paper medical records, note the needed procedure on a travel sheet or in the chart (see sample travel sheets in my book, "The Veterinary Practice Management Resource Book & CD,” www.csvets.com/books/ or call 720-344-2347).
When the client service representative sees "dental recommended” circled on the travel sheet or in the electronic medical record, she knows to schedule the procedure during checkout. If the client doesn’t schedule, she enters the "dental recommended” code on today’s invoice.
1. AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 8th edition, AAHA Press 2013; pp. 55, 59 and 115.
2. "The Path to High-Quality Care: Practical Tips for Improving Compliance,” 2003 American Animal Hospital Association, pages 9, 18, 20, 21 and 82.
3. "Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level,” 2009 American Animal Hospital Association, page 11.
4. Data on file, Communication Solutions for Veterinarians’ study of 107 practices, 2012.
Setting Stuff Up
When setting up the code in your software, create an invoice item description such as "Your pet needs dental treatment now. Please schedule to protect your pet’s health.” Also set the reminder as a callback in one week. Because the client visited last week, the diagnosis and treatment will still be top of mind.
Waiting 30 days or more to follow up will lessen your chances of scheduling the procedure.
When you call the client next week as a courtesy reminder, say, "Dr. Her Name asked me to call you about scheduling Opus’ Grade 2 dental treatment so we can treat his infection and slow the progression of his dental disease. When would be a convenient time for you to schedule Opus’ dental treatment? I have an opening on Friday or Monday. Which best fits your schedule?”
Stating the doctor’s name brings authority and credibility to the follow-up call. "Infection” indicates the need for treatment. Asking "when” the client would like to schedule, and then offering two "yes” options will significantly increase compliance.
As a consultant, I recommend that client service representatives call clients to follow up on Grade 1 and 2 dental treatments, while veterinarians call clients about Grade 3 and 4 dental cases. When a doctor calls, it elevates the importance of treating advanced dental disease. Clients may say yes more quickly to the "magic white coat.”
Compliance for professional dental cleanings is 38 percent, according to the 2009 AAHA compliance study.3 Following up could generate more than $260,000 in additional dental income annually at a two-doctor practice.
More than 75 percent of clients expect you to follow up on pets’ conditions after problems have been diagnosed, yet only 52 percent of hospitals do so, according to the 2003 AAHA compliance study.2 Use the callback system in your practice-management software and train your team on how to have confident follow-up conversations with clients. My CE credit webinar on "Callbacks That Gets Clients to Come Back” offers scripts for team members (www.csvets.com/webinars or call 720-344-2347).
When your team follows up on needed veterinary care, you’ll increase client satisfaction, improve patient care, and grow hospital revenue.
Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians and is a partner in Animal Hospital Specialty Center, a 10-doctor AAHA-accredited referral practice in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. She helps teams improve compliance and client service through consulting, seminars, and webinars. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.csvets.com.