25 ways to untangle your veterinary practice snarls

25 ways to untangle your veterinary practice snarls

You're not the only one with a tangled mess of operational snags. Just try my 25 tips to get your practice purring like, well, a cat.
Feb 01, 2010

Not long ago I received a cry for help on my voice mail: "Dr. Rothstein, we spoke a long time ago when I opened my practice. You advised me on some management issues, but 10 years later my clinic is still dysfunctional. Can you help? Please?"

I returned the call, but the doctor never called back. My guess, however, is that he's not the only practice owner or manager who feels desperate about internal operations, wondering how to get things organized and flowing smoothly. Disorganization always causes problems. Some practices grow so quickly that they overwhelm the veterinary team and start shedding employees and clients. More mature, stable practices experience problems because they're missing essential organizational systems.

If you, like my caller, feel that your practice is a knotted mess whose strands are in danger or fraying—or snapping—I've got 25 ways for you to smooth things out. These systems are distilled from my 10-plus years of managing a group of veterinary hospitals. You don't have to reinvent the wheel to turn around your hospital operations, but you must provide the essential leadership to make it happen.

1 Medical exam report cards

Report cards help doctors conduct complete exams at every patient visit. They also remind clients of your recommendations and personalize otherwise generic information. Have a computer in your exam room? You can fill out the form immediately as part of your electronic medical notes and then print a copy for the client as a take-home. And because you're revealing the results of the full physical exam, report cards also cut down on front-desk complaints about exam fees.

2 Computer diagnostic codes

Use diagnostic codes in your computer system so you can quickly pull up a master problem list for any patient. This list of past and current health issues saves you time and helps associates who may not have seen the pet before—no more scouring records for past problems. After each visit, enter the diagnostic codes from the physical exam so your list for the patient is complete. This takes a few minutes, but it's worth the effort.

3 Client education handouts

You should be ready to hand an information sheet to a client each time you make a diagnosis. Start by creating educational handouts for your top 10 to 20 diagnoses and then add forms for less-common conditions over time. Link the forms to diagnostic codes in your computer so that they automatically print when clients check out. Clients need to understand their pets' health conditions thoroughly, even when doctors and team members don't do a perfect job communicating the details. Client handouts help keep pet owners well-informed. Plus, they educate family members who weren't at the visit.

4 Patient drop-off forms

Letting clients drop off pets for exams and procedures decreases stress on team members, especially on days with lots of walk-ins, last-minute appointments, or cases requiring extensive workups. Your team members can continue with regular appointments and complete other workups in their downtime. To facilitate this process, create a drop-off form that includes patient history and owner contact information for the day.

5 Discharge forms

With surgical discharge forms, you can print out or modify take-home instructions for clients so that they leave well-informed about the pet's condition. A good form saves time and decreases client stress. Clients tend to assume procedures have been done correctly, so you and your team are often judged on how well you handle the discharge.

6 Dental discharge forms

These forms diagram teeth that were removed, summarize the condition of teeth after a cleaning, and describe other procedures that you've performed or will need to perform. In my hospitals, we attach before-and-after pictures of the oral cavity so clients can see the difference a cleaning makes.

7 Consent forms

These forms can protect you from liability and help ensure that clients understand the risks involved in surgical and anesthetic procedures. It's still important to review the form with clients and ask them for any questions or concerns.