When visiting different hospitals as a relief veterinarian, I see different styles of practice management. One style that works great for one clinic might not be the best for another. However, there are common problems that all clinics face. Some handle them well, while others struggle. I’m going to break down a few of the most common problems that bog down clinic workflow and can lead to unhappy and stressed-out staff.
1. Appointment Scheduling: This is a skill that sometimes takes years to master. Two of the most important aspects to remember when scheduling appointments is that client conversations and diagnostics take time and can get your doctor’s behind schedule. When training a new customer service representative (CSR), help them out by using your veterinary practice management software (VPMS) to set time blocks for well and sick visits and catch up time for the doctors. Time slots for each type of appointment will vary depending on your clinic’s staffing capability and budgeting for practice profitability. These appointment times should vary between 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the appointment type. Try to avoid setting 30-minute appointments for every patient. This will result in a backlog of cases and overlapping wait times, especially for sick patients.
- Properly training your CSR to ask important questions when scheduling appointments is also essential to effective scheduling. During training, it can be helpful to have scripts for them to learn, especially if they are new to the veterinary field. Ensure they are asking clients to schedule annual wellness exams if they have any concerns they would like to discuss with the doctor. This helps to place clients more appropriately in longer time slots if there are many concerns. For example, a senior pet exam that has many ailments might need longer than a fifteen-minute vaccine appointment. Keeping these elements streamlined helps to keep veterinary technicians and doctors on time and less pressured throughout the day.
2. Laboratory Testing: This is another area in the clinic that can slow down workflow and cause stress for technicians. Many of the successful clinics I have worked in have an assigned laboratory technician that processes all of the in-house lab tests and double-checks send-out tests. The technician that is working with a doctor will request labs or set up samples for cytology when possible and help where they can but not always perform said tests. This allows them to better assist their doctor during exams, discuss important information with clients, and perform other required diagnostics or services.
3. In-Clinic Veterinary Pharmacies: These have changed over the years, with more access to generic medications and online pharmacies. Pet parents are calling or emailing with medication refill requests or questions regarding the pet’s medications more often than before. In the past, doctors would often get these questions on a message on their desk and follow it up with a phone call to the owners. With the new normal of curbside and limited face-to-face client interaction, our doctors are on the phone all the time. Hiring an experienced veterinary technician or assistant to be a pharmacy technician can streamline your pharmacy calls, help fill in-house medications and relay important medication information to clients without having the doctor get pulled away from their current patients.
4. Consistent Staff Meetings: Clinics that do not have regular staff meetings are quickly apparent when I visit a new hospital. Monthly staff meetings are important to all clinics, no matter the size. You might think it is counterproductive to close the clinic for an hour, but if you are doing this only once a month, you will recover that hour loss in no time. Make your clients aware ahead of time while outlining the benefits and you should not receive too much push back. Staff meetings are important to address problems that arise, praise success or milestones for staff, and teach staff about new products or services being offered. This also allows for staff to be involved and be seen as a part of the team.
While there are more than just four problems we encounter in veterinary practice management, these are the ones that I see most commonly in clinics that decrease productivity, limit positive staff interactions and cause stress for all. Small changes in these areas can improve overall work environments in a big way.
Let me know your productivity hacks in the comments!