You already know that expanding hours at your veterinary practice can be costly—and not just financially. You might end up spending more time in the hospital than at home. But it can also be great for your clients. Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, president of the Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan, and Dr. Fred Metzger, DABVP, of Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa, offer you this advice to overcome those hurdles and reap the benefits:
Facing the biggest barrier
The biggest worry about expanding hours, according to Dr. Rothstein, is the perceived—and sometimes real—inconvenience to staff and doctors.
"If you're going to expand until 8 p.m. every night, is there anyone willing to work those hours?" Dr. Rothstein says. "And you might need to hire extra doctors or everyone will end up working full time hours and then some."
Use your intuition to judge if you should extend your hours, Dr. Metzger says. Then start on the preparation.
Doing your homework
> Survey says. Do you need expanded hours? Dr. Metzger says you need to ask your clients. Send a survey to different clients over three to four months and ask about extended hours: "How important (scale 1-5, with 5 very important and 1 not important) would extended hours be for you and your pet?" Talk to clients in the exam room about the prospect. The data you collect will be key when you present the change to your staff, Metzger says. If your staff sees a great need, the transition might go smoother.
> Check out your competition in the area. Dr. Rothstein recommends looking for a time gap that other clinics in the area aren't filling.
> Talk to the team. Discuss the idea openly with your doctors to see if some team members might already want to change their hours.
Dr. Metzger says to ask for volunteers to work later, to pick up more hours or to move from a morning to an evening shift. If you're really passionate about extending hours, you'll find a way to move your staff around to fit your practice's and your clients' needs.
How willing would you be to change your approach if it would increase client visits?
"Explain the necessity of it," Dr. Rothstein says. "Discuss the opportunity to grow the practice and be there for the clients. I've seen practices that do it successfully that can afford to grow, with more doctors and more equipment."
If you do need to hire more staff for the job, Dr. Metzger says you shouldn't be tempted to throw these newbies on the later shifts. You still want the same quality in your extended hours as your regular hours.
"In a lot of practices, the overnight and late-night shifts are your 'B' team," Dr. Metzger says. "I think that's dangerous. Two of my most experienced technicians are overnight."
Timing the change
Make sure you implement the change during your slowest period, Dr. Metzger says.
"It depends on where you live," Metzger says. "In Pennsylvania where I live, winter is the slowest time. Never make changes during your busiest period."
And Drs. Rothstein and Metzger both agree on one very important point: If you're on the fence at all about extending your hours, don't do it. A big change like this requires commitment to stay the course and manage any potential fallout with team members. Also, if you do decide to extend your hours, give the change one year and re-evaluate whether it's working for your practice.