Nine tips for tidying up our practices this year

Among other human urges that define spring as a season, the drive to reestablish control over our lives plays a prominent role in our culture

If it doesn’t bring you joy… throw it out. It’s an inexplicably alluring (if slightly depressing) code to live by. Championed by professional organizer Marie Kondo in her wildly successful book, The Life-Changing Method of Tidying Up, the eponymous KonMari approach to organization urges us all to examine the impulses tethering us to things that don’t really matter.

Among other human urges that define spring as a season (procreation comes to mind), the drive to reestablish control over our lives plays a prominent role in our culture. Maintaining our homes and workplaces clean, tidy, and ordered represents a psychological thawing of our winterized brains and a resurrection of our normal daily activities.

We as veterinary professionals experience much the same as it applies to our workplaces. As the busier seasons approach, many of us take stock of what we have and seek to improve our environment. Tidying up à la KonMari, with an eye toward getting rid of what doesn’t serve us, is how I’m managing my life this year.

To that end, here are this year’s things to tackle and tips for tidying, as I seek to tame the chaos that inevitably builds over the previous year.

1) Get your professional gears going

It’s no wonder our conference season is a deep-winter occurrence. We need this time to reflect on the past year and refresh our knowledge so we can improve ourselves and practice even better medicine with each passing year.

This year, consider picking one subject and diving deep. You’ll learn a lot of the other stuff (new products, popular ideas) by professional osmosis, but the rest of it comes from hard work. A bookish approach to one area means you’ll have a new professional interest to engage the deeper parts of your veterinary brain.

This year, I’m brushing up on my clinical pharmacology. I’m placing an emphasis on pain control, CBD products, and anesthetics in general, as our opioid scarcity makes practicing as we’ve always done more of a challenge.

2) Implement better inventory controls

As a practice owner, taking stock is, quite literally, critical to my financial success. As prices go up (they’re horrible this year!), my margins go down, meaning my earnings stand to drop significantly if I don’t take control of what I buy and sell.

For me, keeping products adequately stocked is a big deal. If I buy too much, I strain myself financially, but if I don’t buy enough I risk losing clients forever to online competitors. Then there’s the issue of my inventory taking an unintended walk, which means I lose doubly, both what I spent and what I stand to earn.

What’s a practice owner to do?

This year I’m making a big change. I’m investing in a Cubex system. Borrowed from the human pharmacist’s toolkit, this mechanism keeps my meds and products stocked in little bins that open only when they’re individually dispensed. Tied directly into my practice management software, it means I know where each pill and product unit goes and keeps track of what I have on hand without onerous inventory-taking. It also makes the five-finger discount less likely. It’s not foolproof and it’s expensive, but with my skyrocketing drug bills, what choice do I have?

3) Consider software options

Maybe it’s time for a new platform. God knows I hate the one I currently have! Every year brings new products to this fast-growing area of practice management and, eventually I’ll have to make a switch. Maybe it’s time for you to go to the cloud… or pick another approach more in line with your practice’s needs.

This year I grit my teeth, held my nose, and updated my software. Let’s hope next year there’ll be a new product that serves my needs better than this one currently does.

4) Make your workflow smarter

Every practice can stand to improve its internal systems. By that I’m referring to how you process clients as they walk in the door and how patients move through the practice. Sit down and think about how each exam room is prepped, how each patient is checked in, how long she stays in the waiting room, who ushers her into a room, how her tech preps her for the veterinarian, etc.

It’s a very useful exercise and helps you fill in gaps to make things function more smoothly. Just make sure to get buy-in from key employees and doctors before implementing any changes. A full team meeting is most definitely in order as you implement any improvements.

5) Tidy those tool boxes, exam room drawers, and crash carts

Here, you can take a more traditional approach to tidying up. Organize your most-reached-for items in order of frequency and utility, not size or some other random attribute. Place pricier items in more centralized storage areas of the practice.

Believe it or not, here’s where I often experience the most resistance from my team. Who knew that where you put the syringes and how the vaccines are ordered in the room’s mini-fridge made so much of a difference? It does, so feel your team’s buy-in carefully as you move stuff around in the practice’s most work-intensive areas.

6) Confront team staffing issues head-on

Is it time for a purge? You know what I mean. Sometimes enough is enough and it’s time for someone to take a walk. You’ve been dreading it, though, and if you’re like me, the fear of confrontation and possible legal repercussions keeps you from doing what you know in your heart you must.

7) Clean up your finances

It’s tax time, which means you might want to make a change in how you organize your finances. Of course, wait until you’ve filed your taxes before you find a new professional. Maybe you’ve come to realize you’ve outgrown your accountant or simply lost faith in his or her ability to treat you in the manner you deserve. It’s a big decision, but it’s the one area that stands to make the most significant difference in your long-term financial well-being.

Hiring a financial planner or practice consultant might be in order, too. Remember, these options are always on the menu and deserve thorough consideration as your practice needs change and the economy evolves.

Associates, too, should consider hiring financial planners. Isn’t it time you got a professional to look at your money situation? Hiring one may not be as expensive as you think.

8) Clean your house… literally

Get rid of what doesn’t bring you joy. Post on Craigslist that extra or outdated equipment. Stop keeping three different concentrations of a medication you can easily halve or quarter. Purge and tidy up room by room, shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer. Apply this trick to your desk, too. You know you should!

But it’s not just about stuff. It’s also about literal cleanliness. Are your standards up to par? Does your place sparkle? Smell great? It should! This year, we bit the bullet and hired a cleaning crew to come in one night a week and once over the weekend. While we expect our day crew to clean, that’s not exactly their forte. Hiring a professional can really up the quality of your environment and help focus your team’s efforts on patient care.

9) Don’t neglect your brain’s tidiness, too.

Is it time to start seeing a therapist? Learn tai chi? Start going to yoga? Commit to a Pilates regimen? Take positive mental health steps and all other aspects of your life’s tidiness will become more manageable. I promise!

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small-animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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