This new “Management Matters” blog will feature the writing of veterinary practice management consultants Monica Dixon Perry, Mark Opperman and Sheila Grosdidier. Come back every month for their unique take on current and future trends in veterinary practice as well as tried-and-true tips for improving patient care, team member morale and practice revenue.
On a recent visit to a boarding facility’s doggie playtime, I saw a robot that threw a ball—and fetched it if the dog didn’t want to. How’s that for technology? While you might not be ready to buy a ball-fetching robot, it may be time to embrace some of the newer technologies available to veterinary practices. Technology can improve your practice’s efficiency and in some cases, even the quality of your medicine and surgery. And without question, it’ll improve your client’s perception of value.
So if you’re ready to take the plunge, here are a few ways to incorporate technology into your practice:
1. Ditch the paper trail. A question I often ask veterinarians and veterinary team members is, how many of their practices have converted their medical records from paper to electronic? The response is usually 10 percent to 30 percent. I then follow up that question by asking how many of those practices that converted to electronic medical records would go back to paper. Can you guess the response? None! I’ve never asked that question and had someone say they’d like to switch back. And that makes a strong statement to everyone else in the room. If those practices that converted from paper to electronic say they’d never go back, then what’s holding back the rest of the profession?
It’s past time for practices to make the conversion to electronic medical records. Assuming that your practice uses one of the leading veterinary practice management software systems, why are you reluctant to make the change? Consider the advantages: You won’t have to hunt down medical record files—all the information you need will be in one place. As you see appointments, your patient’s entire medical record—including lab reports and x-rays—will be at your fingertips.
There are many ways to go about converting to electronic medical records, and all the software vendors offer protocols to help your practice make the change. Some practices install computers in each exam room, others provide doctors with tablets and some even use dictation software to enter information into their computer system. There’s no single right answer. Talk to your software vendor and other practices that made the conversion and decide which method is best for your practice. The bottom line is, the time for this change has not only come, but it’s been here for a while. You need to take advantage of this technology at your practice. Visit dvm360.com/paperless to read more about taking the paperless plunge.
2. Use your cell phone. If going paperless seems like a big step and you need time to think about that (but hopefully not too long), then start by making a more simple change: the phone.
Is your practice currently texting notes and reminders to clients? A best practice I’ve seen is to take a picture of a patient in recovery from surgery and text it to the client with a short note stating that everything went fine and you look forward to seeing them that evening for their pet’s discharge. On medical cases, you can text a picture during the day with a medical progress note. If you’re a 24-hour hospital, you could text a picture at 3 a.m. stating Fluffy is resting comfortably. Granted, the client might not see the picture until later in the morning, but they’ll know you were there taking care of their pet at 3 a.m.
Other practices provide clients with a practice cell phone number and encourage them to call at any time with questions or concerns about their pet. You’d be amazed at how respectful most clients are and how few will call the number so as not to bother the technician.
Texting a picture is also a fun way to enhance your boarding service. Take pictures of the pets boarding at your practice and send them to their owners with a short note such as, “Tanner misses you, but he’s having a great time with all his new friends.” Clients will love it!
3. Send email reminders. Studies have shown that you can increase your reminder effectiveness by 17 percent by using email. But the big question is, what percentage of your active clients are set up for this? If fewer than 75 percent of your clients are on email, this is an area of improvement for you. Sending email reminders not only increases the effectiveness of reminders, but it decreases costs. Emails are also a great way to remind clients about an upcoming appointment, medication refill or grooming appointment. Visit dvm360.com/clientfriendly for 10 easy steps to client-friendly reminders.
4. Upgrade to digital radiography. Has your practice converted to digital radiography yet? There’s a phenomenon that normally occurs when a practice converts to this newer technology. Want to know what it is? They see an increase in income. This isn’t due to an increase in their fees for radiology services, but rather, it’s because they’re doing more radiographs. This defies all logic, because you’d think that if a radiograph needed to be taken, you’d do it regardless of whether you were using film or doing it digitally.
But the fact is, every practice we’ve worked with sees an increase in radiology revenue once they make the conversion from film to digital. My guess is that digital radiographs are so fun and easy to do that veterinarians opt to do more of them once they make the conversion. (Read about Veterinary Economics Advisory Board Member Dr. Andy Rollo’s experience at his practice.)
4. Explore iPads and video. Another simple way you can use technology to help clients understand the importance of what you do is by using an iPad or similar mobile device to make digital videos. How about creating a virtual tour of your practice? The tour could take the client through the entire hospital—from the reception area through the kennel area—to show the quality and excellence of your practice. You could run the video on your website or play it on a flat-screen TV in the reception area. Many practices also record “A day in the life of a pet” for pets undergoing a dental procedure or routine surgery, like a spay or neuter. The video could wind up on an iPad or shown on a small monitor in the exam room or reception area.
Think what it’d be like for a client to actually see what their pet will be experiencing during his or her stay in your hospital? They’d see your treatment area, the surgery suite, the recovery room and the laboratory. And how do you think it’ll affect their perception of value at your practice? I can tell you, it’ll be amazing when clients see the quality and excellence of the service you provide. (More than two years later, it’s amazing how many practices still haven’t updated their website with video tours and more. See what else Opperman recommends for practice websites.)
5. Take advantage of social media You might be tired of hearing it, but it’s true: Social media is where it’s at in terms of marketing and client education. The question is no longer “Do you have a Facebook page or are you on LinkedIn,” but instead, “What are you doing with your Facebook page?” Just having a Facebook page doesn’t do much good for you if you’re not working on it. How often are you posting information? Many practices link YouTube videos to their Facebook page so that people are constantly coming back to it. (Start with these free client education videos.)
Twitter has also been a very successful way for practices to bond with clients and keep them engaged. But you need to be a little careful here. Some practices have had some of their younger employees take the reins of a practice’s Facebook page or Twitter account and haven’t overseen what’s posted. Remember: What’s posted on your social media pages will reflect back on you and your practice, so be careful with the content and make sure someone monitors it.
Mark Opperman, Sheila Grosdidier and Monica Dixon Perry of veterinary practice consulting firm VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., are the regular contributors to this online column.