10 veterinary practice time savers
Are your team members always busy—or at least appear busy—yet the work isn't getting done? Are you frustrated by team members' frequent complaints that they don't have time to get projects completed? Do you feel like you're up to your ass in alligators but don't have time to drain the swamp? Well, the problem may not be your team members. Instead, the problem may lie in your inefficient systems and processes. Here are 10 ideas that I've seen again and again will significantly improve efficiency in veterinary practice. They can help you too.
1. Go paperless
In my seminars, I typically ask veterinarians, "How many of you have converted from paper medical records to electronic medical records?" A third or more of the audience members will put up their hands. Next, I ask, "Of those who made the conversion, how many of you would go back to paper medical records?" Do you know how many hands go up? None. Never.
The day of paper medical records is gone—that type of system is a dinosaur! It's long past time to make this change in your practice. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes! Every veterinary software company has a protocol you can follow to make the transition. Contact your software company to find out what you need to do to make this happen for your practice. I promise it'll be one of the smarter things you've ever done to improve efficiency in your practice. Want to learn more about paperless practice? Head over to this article to read about its benefits and challenges.
2. Use templates
Once the switch from paper medical records to electronic medical records has been accomplished, you next step is patient care templates. Many software systems already have templates. All you need to do is modify them for your practice. Imagine having a discharge order form already formatted so that all you have to do is fill in the blanks and check off the boxes. You can do the same for your outpatient exams, surgery log, anesthesia log, dental medical record and medical care plans just to name a few. I've seen veterinarians use templates to improve their efficiency and the quality of their medical records as well as to get them home to their families at a reasonable hour.
3. Embrace technology
Are there enough computer terminals in your practice, or do people often wait in line to use a terminal? Do you use writing tablets, iPads or other technology in the exam room to help you communicate with clients and improve efficiency? Might an additional credit card machine help your receptionists invoice clients faster, so that clients won't have to wait? Recently, a veterinarian complained to me that he couldn't get ink ribbons anymore for his dot matrix printer. (No, I'm not kidding.) Today, technology needs to be updated every three years or so—some might even say sooner. A newer, faster computer or printer might be an easy way to pick up the pace in your practice.
4. Open an operator station
Take calls away from the reception area team and send them to a special phone operator station. The operator answers calls, responds to clients' questions, schedules appointments and transfers calls or sends them to voicemail. Client service has improved dramatically in any practice that's set up an operator station. First, receptionists are able to focus on clients face-to-face in the practice, and clients on the phone receive the operator's full attention. This is the epitome of a win-win situation. Best of all, most practices won't even need to hire another employee to establish a telephone operator. Answering phones is already being done—but by multiple people. And if a single phone operator ever gets overwhelmed by call volume, after three rings, any nearby employee can step in and answer the phone.
5. Manage inventory with barcodes
Why don't more practices use barcode scanning for inventory management and client purchases? I don't get it. Go into any retail outlet, department store or grocery store, and you see barcodes everywhere. Why don't we in the veterinary profession do the same? Well, some practices do use this awesome technology—but not everyone has caught up.
Ready to consider barcodes? You have three main options. One option is scanning items as they arrive. This way inventory is entered immediately into your practice software and prices and inventory counts are automatically updated. A second option is scanning items at the point of sale, so when a client purchases a bag of food, it's scanned just as it would be in a grocery store. A third option—do both! Many distributors and software companies will help you set up barcode scanning throughout your practice. Barcode scanning can be a thing of beauty when used correctly. It cuts down on a lot of inventory mistakes, ensures proper pricing and reduces the time needed for inventory management.
6. Script your conversations
When a client calls to ask about heartworm, feline leukemia or West Nile virus, how do your team members respond? Some receptionists and technicians may be clear and concise in their communication, while others suffer from what I call "verbal diarrhea."
The other question is, what are team members telling clients—and are they all saying the same thing? I strongly suggest practices develop written scripts for some of their most common communication topics. People don't need to speak exactly from the script, but scripts help team members remember to cover the important points.
And, as with anything else, "don't expect what you don't inspect." Call the practice and listen to how phone calls are answered. Or, better yet, have someone else call as a mystery shopper. Written scripts ensure not only accuracy of communication, but also efficiency and consistency. Go to dvm360.com/secretshopper to read about practice consultant Sheila Grosdidier's undercover experience at a veterinary hospital.
7. Outsource your reminders
It's not uncommon for me to go into a practice, ask the practice owner or manager who handles the reminders and how often, and then check with the person who's actually doing the reminders and get a totally different answer. In fact, one practice team found they weren't sending any reminders at all! The receptionist who'd done this job previously had left the practice and no one picked up the responsibility—everyone thought someone else was doing it.
Outside companies can be relied on to get reminders out. Most companies will let you customize your reminder protocol. They can handle postal reminders as well as emails. In many cases, they'll send reminders weekly and include multiple pets on one reminder card, saving you money. When determining the cost effectiveness of outsourcing reminders, remember to factor in the costs as well as your team members' time. Are there other things they could be doing that might be more beneficial for the practice?
If you need to be involved in every task, checking and double-checking everything, how will you ever get your work done and move your practice forward? When it comes to most tasks around your hospital, you're not the only person who can do something and do it right. If so, you're headed for burnout and frustration.
Now, delegation is an art. It needs to be learned and practiced. Once you master the art of delegation, you'll see what an amazing tool it can be to help you accomplish your goals and achieve success in your endeavors. One key to delegation is to have the right people to delegate to. If you're the practice owner, do you have an office manager, practice manager or hospital administrator to whom you can delegate management tasks? If you're one of those managers, do you have a lead receptionist, head technician or kennel manger to whom you can delegate? Look at your organizational chart. If all the lines point to you, maybe you need to work on developing more individuals to whom you can delegate and, in doing so, improve your productivity and efficiency.
9. Align your surgery schedule with your team schedule
Too few practices effectively match the team's working schedule to fit the doctors' office hours and surgery schedule. Doctors need the right number of team members scheduled to work with them to get the job done. I think, in many practices, the employees schedule the practice instead of the practice scheduling the employees. For example, one of your employees may say she can only work until 4 p.m. or she can't come in until 10 a.m. So, employees are dictating the schedule, not us.
When setting your team schedule, always look first at office hours and surgery times then superimpose your team schedule onto that. If you schedule a doctor to perform surgery, you know you'll need a receptionist, at least one or two technicians and a veterinary assistant. If another doctor is handling outpatient office visits at the same time, you know you'll need an exam room assistant, a pharmacy and laboratory technician and possibly another receptionist. The point is that doctors' needs should drive the team schedule.
There are some excellent scheduling software programs available to help you accomplish this task. Many of these programs will inform you of the ratio of support staff to doctors at any given time and the cost of the team members scheduled to help you with budgeting. You can't be efficient if you don't have the right team members to help and assist doctors during your day.
10. Ask for automatic lab work reporting
One simple thing you can do to improve your practice's efficiency is to inquire whether laboratory results for in-house and outside laboratories can be put directly into patients' medical records. Many veterinary software systems facilitate this process. The time savings derived from this can be immense and, as an added benefit, can prevent transcription errors. If your software supports this activity, set it up. The same goes for your outside laboratory. It makes life in practice so much easier.
These are only 10 ideas to save time and to improve efficiency and profitability in your practice. Truth be told, they were pretty easy to come up with. Sometimes it's the little things that can have the biggest impact—not enough phone lines, clients waiting to process credit cards because a phone line is busy, running between multiple printers for client receipts because they're too slow. Take a look at your processes and talk to your team members—they are a great source of knowledge. Together, try to identify the areas where your practice is inefficient and start taking steps to improve upon those parts. The rewards can truly be great.
Mark Opperman, CVPM, is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo.