Remind yourself about reminders
How many times does this happen in your hospital?
A bewildered CSR comes back and tells you that Mrs. Smith is on the phone, she’s out of heart medication for Fluffy, and now she’s not sure if she needs to refill it. Oh, and now Fluffy is coughing, and Mrs. Smith is pissed.
Nothing is more frustrating than when patient follow-ups fall through the cracks, and yet, in a busy hospital with doctors and staff coming and going, it happens way more often than we would like. At the hospital where I practice, we use a simple system to ensure appropriate patient follow-up and avoid the pissed-off Mrs. Smiths of the world. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps. Just remember the “Three Rs.”
Any patient that’s being seen for a medical condition should always have a recheck appointment set, ideally before the client leaves the hospital, even if the recheck is six months in the future. The appointment should have details, such as “Recheck CBC and lytes” or “Recheck weight, discuss a dental, refill medication.” This not only helps the next person who sees the reminder, but it should mean you’ve communicated the plans to the client and that gives him or her time to prepare financially or emotionally for the next steps with their fur child.
"The doctor wants to see Fluffy back in two weeks. Would Tuesday the fourth work for you?"
If you find that your clients are reticent to schedule appointments at check-out, find out how your front staff is communicating to the clients. You may be surprised to find that your front staff is making the recheck sound "optional" or "no big deal," all in an effort to the please the client. It is important to train the front staff to be confident and direct in their communications with clients. Eschew phrases like, "The doctor recommends that you set up a recheck appointment. Would you like to do that now?" and instead try, "The doctor wants to see Fluffy back in two weeks. Would Tuesday the fourth work for you?"
How do I know this works? Well, the receptionist at my kid’s orthodontist uses this Jedi mind trick on me all the time, and like the trainable mammal I am, I schedule that next appointment right then and there. Every. Time.
Speaking of trainable mammals, there’s still nothing better than a reminder (paper, electronic or otherwise) to get clients back in the door for rechecks. I often ask my clients, “What brought you in today?” and unless the pet is injured or sick, the answer is invariably, “I got a reminder, so I came in.”
People often don’t know why they’re in your office—they just know the reminder told them to come in, and for the good of the pets and their blind faith and trust in us, obediently they come.
Reminders are one of my favorite tools, and I use them for everything. Most practice software will set up automatic reminders for things like vaccines, routine labs and annual exams, which is great, but I take it one step further. If I make talk about future plans with a client during an appointment, then I set up a reminder while I’m writing up my chart. For example, if a pet needs to lose weight, I give the client a detailed weight loss program and then set up reminders for weight checks and a four-month recheck exam. If I talk to the client about a dental procedure and an appointment isn’t made, I’ll set a reminder for to check in with the client about it in a month. If I talk about heartworm testing and prevention, and the pet owner turns me down but says maybe after the next paycheck comes in a month, I set a reminder for heartworm testing and prevention in one month. Get the idea?
Reminders are amazeballs. Use them to direct your client’s actions—and yours!
Ahhh, yes. The dreaded call-back list. Everybody has to deal with it.
If you don’t have a system in place at your hospital to call back clients after a visit, set one up ASAP. I’ve worked in hospitals that left client call backs to the doctors, but frankly that’s just silly. Paraprofessional staff can be trained to elegantly communicate with clients, and your doctor’s time is more valuable than doing recheck phone calls. Of course, there are always cases when the doctor needs to talk to the clients, but you’d be surprised how much doctor time you create by dividing and conquering the call-back list.
Paraprofessional staff can be trained to elegantly communicate with clients, and your doctor’s time is more valuable than doing recheck phone calls.
The best system I ever saw involved the every day’s patient list printed out and kept on a clipboard. Whenever staff members weren’t busy with a task, they worked on the call-back list as a team. If an issue arose that required a doctor’s attention, then the callback was transferred to a doctor.
A word about Millennials and phones: Even if they don’t want to talk to you on the phone and they don’t pick up, they will listen to your message and feel all warm and fuzzy that you called them to check on their pet or set up the next appointment. Yes, your staff may bitch and moan about being too busy to call clients, but recalling clients is an essential point of customer service and client retention, so get to it!