Five need-to-know timesavers to help speed up surgical check-ins

Talk with your team about ways to streamline surgical admissions and set clear expectations for clients

Allow multiple touch points with clients upon surgical check-in to save time, including phone calls, emails, and online forms.
Allow multiple touch points with clients upon surgical check-in to save time, including phone calls, emails, and online forms.

Two technicians are preparing for 10 surgeries this morning. They review paperwork with clients during admission appointments, run preanesthetic tests, assist the veterinarian with presurgical exams, and begin prepping patients. This busy routine can be more challenging for 70 percent of practice teams who are operating short-staffed.1

Here are five timesavers to make the morning rush more efficient and less stressful:

Timesaver 1: Sign upon booking

Get signatures on treatment plans and anesthetic consents when booking procedures. Let’s say you diagnose a cat’s dental disease during a checkup and explain the need for treatment. Present the treatment plan on the day of diagnosis, giving the client information to decide.

To lead the pet owner to book now, offer the veterinarian’s next two procedure days available. Book the procedure with the same doctor who diagnosed the condition because he/she will be familiar with the case and enjoy production pay. Scheduling with the same doctor also increases clients’ confidence.

Say this, “Dr. <Name> diagnosed <pet name> with Grade 2 dental disease. To schedule your cat’s dental procedure, I will have you sign the treatment plan and anesthetic consent now. I will email you a copy and provide instructions for the day of the procedure. We can perform the treatment on <date, time 1> or <date, time 2>. Which do you prefer?”

If clients schedule over the phone, email treatment plans and surgical consents. Require clients to submit forms 24 hours ahead and call them if paperwork has not been returned. Save 10 to 20 minutes on the morning of admission because clients will complete and submit forms from home.

Animal’s Choice Veterinary Clinic in Iuka, Miss., uses JotForm for consent forms with electronic signature capture. The hospital has online forms for anesthesia consent, new patients, boarding, and grooming. After filling out and signing forms, clients click “submit,” which emails information to the hospital. Set up a specific email such as so this timely information does not get lost or buried in your hospital’s general email.

At VCA Sheridan Animal Hospital & Veterinary Specialists of Western New York in Buffalo, clients receive individual treatment plans and anesthetic consents by email or through the MyVCA mobile app, which allows digital signatures.

Timesaver 2: Set expectations

Whether clients schedule during checkout or over the phone, explain what to expect before, during, and after procedures. A five-minute conversation will educate clients and help them better comply with your process.

Timesaver 3: Written instructions

Provide an admission process sheet. Give clients written instructions at checkout or email documents if they call to schedule. Written instructions reiterate your verbal conversation and may be shared with family members.

Instructions explain what to do or not 10 days before the pet’s procedure and the day before; what to bring, and what to expect on procedure day, explains Holly Monroe, hospital manager at VCA Sheridan Animal Hospital & Veterinary Specialists of Western New York. Here is an example from the client handout:

“The day before your pet’s procedure: Withhold food after X p.m. Water is fine to continue to give until the time of admission. You will receive a preadmission phone call to discuss patient history and answer admission questions that we will need before the procedure. We will talk with you for 10 minutes to gather this information for the medical team. You will pay 75 percent of your treatment plan the day before the procedure. You may pay over the phone or receive a text-to-pay link.”

Timesaver 4: Advanced testing

Collect samples for preanesthetic testing before the day of the procedure. Have veterinarians set a standard of care for how long lab results are valid, such as within 30 days of the procedure. If you diagnose a cat’s dental disease today and schedule the procedure for next week, collect samples now and send them to your reference lab. If you forward book a puppy’s neuter two months away, schedule a technician appointment the week before surgery for sample collection.

Doing preanesthetic testing in advance has four advantages:

1) Clients pay for lab tests today and are financially committed to showing up on the day of the procedure.

2) Gives you the option to do in-house testing or send it to the reference lab.

3) Increases clients’ perception of value because the procedure cost will be lower when they prepay lab work today.

4) Given lab tests are already done, your surgical team can skip the morning rush and begin procedures on time.

Timesaver 5: Prepayment

Collect prepayment or a surgical reservation fee. If a client is a no-show for surgery, your hospital could lose significant income. The average no-show rate for outpatient appointments and surgeries is 11 percent, a whopping $59,400 annually per veterinarian in lost revenue.2

Collecting money upfront will prevent no-shows and gain clients’ commitment. Do not call it a “deposit.” The term is misleading because clients may assume they will get the money back when pets are returned in good condition. Instead, use the term “surgical reservation fee” or “prepayment.”

When clients schedule procedures at checkout, collect surgical reservation fees. Say, “We have scheduled your pet’s surgical admission appointment for <date, time>. Here are preadmission instructions to prepare for your pet’s surgery. Your surgical reservation fee/prepayment is $X. Which payment method do you want to use today?”

If clients call to book, explain, “We have scheduled your pet’s surgical admission appointment for <date, time>. To help you prepare for your pet’s surgery, I will email preadmission instructions to <client email>. Your surgical reservation fee/prepayment is $X. I will send you a text-to-pay link, or you may pay through our app. Which do you prefer?” [Client responds.] “You will get a payment receipt and surgical confirmation.”

Check local laws on deposits and partial payments. You may need to post refund policies and choose terms carefully. For example, in California, businesses are required to post refund policies unless they offer a full cash refund, exchange, or store credit within seven days of the purchase or payment date. In Colorado, there is no right to cancel contracts or purchase agreements. Whether or not a client can receive a refund is dependent on the practice’s return and refund policies.3

Talk with your team about ways to streamline surgical admissions and set clear expectations for clients. You and your clients deserve smooth, efficient check-ins and procedures.

Wendy S. Myers, CVJ, has taught communication and client service skills for more than two decades. As founder of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians, she teaches practical skills through online courses, onsite coaching, and conferences. Myers was a partner in a specialty and emergency practice for five years. Doing her best writing at home in Belize, Myers begins mornings with beach walks and ends with evenings in the kitchen with her husband and two cats. Visit and for more.


  1. Stapleton-Charles N. Veterinary Clinics: An Alarming 70% Are Battling Staffing Shortages in Healthcare. Weave blog. Accessed Nov. 4, 2022.
  2. What Pesky No-Shows Actually Cost Your Veterinary Practice. Pet Desk. Accessed July 20, 2022.
  3. Customer Return and Refund Laws by State. Accessed July 20, 2022.

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